As more and more information becomes available through the release of sworn testimony concerning the shakedown of Ukraine perpetrated by the President of the United States and his minions, the Republicans in Congress have become increasingly desperate in their defense of his actions.
They have used arguments ranging from the ridiculous to the downright dishonest. Recently, three Senators that I thought were relatively straight shooters, even if I didn’t usually agree with their ideas, grovelled in front of Mr. Trump in public. At campaign rallies, Rand Paul (KY) and John Kennedy (LA) made speeches demeaning others in terms that would get any fourth grader in trouble as Mr. Trump stood behind them grinning his “look what I’ve made them do” grin. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) increasingly is getting desperate in his attempts to be Mr. Trump’s bestie. When asked about the most recent incriminating testimony from witnesses in the House of Representatives, he stated that he refused to read the transcripts. In other words, a future juror in the president’s trial (should he be impeached which I think he deserves to be) refuses to even look at the evidence, much less give it due consideration. Appalling.
Next week the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin. After weeks of complaining that it was a secret “Soviet style” proceeding, the president and his underlings now claim that the hearings should not be public. Because they know that unequivocal evidence exists that an orchestrated shakedown occurred? Perhaps they fear that the public will continue the trend towards supporting impeachment if they hear the truth?
According to several reports, House Republicans are now contemplating claiming that the president did not know what his flunkeys, specifically Mr. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were doing. They went “rogue.” Nice try. Mr. Trump himself released a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that captures in his own words the shakedown of the President of Ukraine. Numerous individuals with direct knowledge, including listening to the phone call, have testified that there was a months long effort to make it clear to the Ukrainian government that to get what they so desperately needed to fend off Russian aggression was a public statement by the Ukrainian president. According to the sworn testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent that statement must include three words. “Investigation.” “Biden.” “Clinton.” No statement, no reward. A shakedown at the direction of Mr. Trump. Also known in legal circles as extortion.
In the Senate, it appears that their defense of Mr. Trump will boil down to a three pronged response. “He did it.” “So what?” “Get over it.”
The evidence will continue to show that the president abused the power of his office. He probably is used to doing business this way in all of his endeavors. Additionally, there was a concerted effort, as outlined in sworn testimony, to cover it up. We all know enough about Mr. Trump that if he gets away with this abrogation of the public trust he will do it again.
The story is not very complicated. In the coming weeks we will hear it for ourselves. All Americans believe that no one is above the law. That is now being put to the test. Impeachment and removal from office is a sobering responsibility given to the Congress through the Constitution. It should be approached with the utmost care and with a full understanding of the consequences of such an action. Trivializing the process with playground epithets and unserious rationalizations should not be a part of the process. One would expect both Democrats and Republicans to understand the stakes and to live up to their oaths of office. Undertake due diligence. Review the evidence. Treat career diplomats and military officers testifying under oath with respect. And yes, search their souls for the strength to do what they think is in keeping with our national values and laws. We should expect nothing less from our elected officials. Unfortunately, one party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.
He did it so get over it is not a defense. It is a desperate short-term effort to retain power that is unworthy of American values and our faith in the rule of law. Politicians should rise to the occasion and reflect our better selves. Unfortunately, I expect that the road ahead will only get lower and muddier.
Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to authorize the rules to continue an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States with respect to Ukraine. It is a sober moment for our nation and it should be a reason for each of us to pause and to think about the ramifications of this action.
Contrary to what some have publicly stated, this was not a vote to impeach. The vote pertained to the conduct of the public fact gathering portion of the proceeding. Should the House decide that the president did in fact conduct himself in a manner contrary to the Constitution, they will draft Articles of Impeachment. The entire House then votes to approve or disapprove each of the Articles. Should one or more Article pass, the Senate then holds a trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and votes to convict or acquit the president on each Article.
So far, the majority of Republicans in the House have made a mockery of the proceedings. At the direction of the president, they are spreading lies and misinformation about the investigation. This included storming a classified conference room to “expose” the “secret” proceedings. Not mentioned is that over 40 Republican Congressmen already had access to those proceedings and indeed participated in them to the fullest extent. Yesterday, they went to the House floor to decry the inquiry as akin to secret trials held in the Soviet Union. It is shameful and dishonest behavior on their part.
Now reports indicate that Mr. Trump will monetarily support the election campaigns of Senators that promise to vote against any Articles of Impeachment. He will withhold supporting funds from those that do not. We used to call this bribery.
The Impeachment Inquiry rules incorporate everything that the Republicans asked for with public hearings. Everything. And the rules approved yesterday afford the president more leeway and ability to participate than either set of hearings involving President Nixon or President Clinton.
The process should be fair and open. But here’s the deal. We all already know the basics of what happened. The president, his Acting Chief of Staff, and his personal attorney have all been on television telling us exactly what happened. A long parade of career diplomats and military officers followed with contextual information that indicates just how wide-spread and long-planned the effort to extort the Ukrainian government actually was. It was an old-fashioned shake down. The president wanted “dirt” on his main political rival and to have the Ukrainian government fuel a conspiracy theory that the Russians did not really interfere in the 2016 election. Rather, it was a set up by the Democrats to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign run from, wait for it, Ukraine. Both conspiracy theories have been long ago debunked by our entire intelligence service and by several of Mr. Trump’s own political appointees.
In exchange for made-up information fabricated by Mr. Trump and his henchmen, the president would release nearly $400 million in aid that Ukraine needed to fight off Russian backed separatists. While Mr. Trump ran his crazy mob scam, Ukrainians were dying on the battlefield. Mr. Trump undermined Ukrainian security and our own national security for his personal domestic political goals. He used taxpayer money to extort another country to interfere in our domestic elections for his benefit. This was not a government effort to eliminate corruption generally. There is no such effort or policy in this administration unless the only country in the world that is corrupt is Ukraine and the only people in Ukraine that were corrupt was the Bidens.
It was not just one “perfect” phone call either. The parade of witnesses deposed by the House committees (there were three committees involved) described a long-term, many pronged, concerted effort to run the scam. The phone call was the result of months of heavy pressure outside of normal diplomatic channels to get Ukraine to fabricate lies to help the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.
There is also the little matter of the president standing on the White House lawn and encouraging China to interfere in the 2020 election, just as he publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
We already know all this. (Although, I suspect that it is only the tip of the ice berg.)
The House of Representatives is focused only on his egregious behavior regarding Ukraine. They are not considering impeachment based on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator for money laundering and campaign violations regarding payments to a porn star and a Playboy model. They are not trying to impeach him for the 110 known contacts between his campaign and Russians during the 2016 election. They are not drawing up Articles for the 10 clear cut unlawful efforts to obstruct justice during the Mueller Investigation. They are not contemplating impeaching him for the over 13,500 documented lies to the American people.
Equally important, we all know that a president cannot be impeached because we disagree with his policies. We cannot impeach a president because of an obnoxious personality. We can impeach a president when our national security is put at risk through an abuse of power.
In my opinion the facts surrounding the Ukraine shakedown are not in dispute. Please note that the Republicans are not defending Mr. Trump by disputing the facts or by providing an explanation of his actions. They are only attacking the process, and now that process is of their own design. If they had a factual basis to defend the president, they would use it. They have no facts on their side.
If the facts are not in dispute then the only remaining question is whether they meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” I think that they do, in the context of presidential abuse of power — the major concern of the Founding Fathers — and obstruction of justice by refusing to turn over documents and witnesses lawfully subpoenaed by Congress.
Some argue that with elections about a year away the president should not be impeached but rather the people should decide Mr. Trump’s fate through the ballot box. I think that argument is illogical. Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the 2020 election after we already know that there was interference in the 2016 election. He knows better. More to the point, how can we be sure that the 2020 election is legitimate if we already know that Mr. Trump is trying to stack the deck in his own favor? He is already trying to steal the 2020 election. We know this. Why allow it to happen?
Likewise those that argue that this is just the Democrats trying to undo the 2016 election should take another look. The inquiry is not about the 2016 election. It is about what is happening now to influence the 2020 election. It is not about the past, it’s about the future.
For those that argue that Mr. Trump was out of line to extort the Ukrainians, but that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense I merely ask, where is that line? How much can a president put national security at risk before we say that it is too much? How far can a president abuse the power of the office before we say that it was abused too much? Whether or not the Senate convicts Mr. Trump on any charges — and I believe that inevitably there will be Articles of Impeachment approved in the House — it is important to put a Constitutional marker down that such behavior is not acceptable and that there are consequences to ignoring the law.
It is a sober day when an impeachment proceeding is necessary. No one should take joy in the process. It is also a sad day when an entire political party turns into a cult of personality and publicly attacks a Constitutional process while many of those same politicians privately agree that the leader of the cult abused his power.
There is no telling how events will unfold between now and the end of the year. I only know that it will be a tough time for our country.
With Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) decision to open an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the president, a new chapter of American history is about to be written. This is serious business and it should be approached soberly by all of us.
Recognizing that I have used this space before to call for an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s activities, I still caution everyone, Democrat, Republican, Independent or Undecided to pay attention to events as they unfold and not to jump to any conclusions until all of the facts are known and fully understood. Such an inquiry should not be taken lightly and the full consequences for our democracy should be fully understood and everyone must conduct themselves appropriately.
Please keep in mind, as well, that the inquiry is only the first step of many as the Congress moves forward. An inquiry determines if the House of Representatives considers there to be sufficient evidence to formulate Articles of Impeachment. If they so decide that the evidence exists, then through the Judiciary Committee they formulate the Articles and the entire House votes on each Article as to whether it should be referred to the Senate. The vote is on a simple majority. Should Articles be approved, the matter is referred to the Senate for a trial. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict on any particular Article. Think of the House as a grand jury. They investigate and if they find sufficient evidence they refer it to trial in the Senate. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides at the trial, although the Majority Leader of the Senate can formulate the process by which the trial proceeds.
In my view, the inquiry is fully appropriate. Forget for the moment (if such is possible) the results of the Mueller Report, the misappropriation of funds, the declarations of National Emergencies where none exist, the violation of campaign laws and the rest of it. The information that became available in the course of last week concerning Mr. Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine is sufficient, in and of itself, to warrant investigation.
If you remember nothing else, note that the Russian interference involved the 2016 election. Mr. Trump was working to solicit interference in the 2020 election. After all we learned about the past, Mr. Trump intended to move ahead with a bigger and better plan to throw the next election. Note that his now famous phone call took place the day after Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testified before Congress. In the phone call Mr. Trump is quoted as saying, “As you saw yesterday, that whole performance ended with a poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine.” In Mr. Trump’s mind there was no consequence to his actions in 2016 so he decided to do it again.
The information in the public domain was released by the Trump Administration itself. The memorandum for the record of the 25 July conversation (read it here) and the unclassified version of the whistle-blower’s complaint (read it here) were not “leaked” or otherwise released by nefarious means. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump have themselves validated that the events occurred as depicted in those documents. And more.
It is the “and more” that adds context to the matter and illustrates the depth of the alleged abuse of office. The problem is way more concerning than one phone call, although in itself it is quite serious.
Without going into every twist and turn, the big picture indicates that Mr. Giuliani began working with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter in late 2018, as soon as it became apparent the Mr. Biden would run for president and be a serious threat to Mr. Trump’s re-election. He worked with discredited and then current Ukrainian prosecutors of the government of President Poroshenko. In January, February, and March of this year he continued to pressure them to investigate the Bidens and to promote disproved conspiracy theories concerning the Democratic National Committee emails and servers and the then Ambassador from the U.S. to Ukraine, claiming that they worked to interfere in the 2016 election (not the Russians).
All was going well from Mr. Giuliani’s stand point until on 21 April Volodymyr Zelensky beat all predictions by defeating Mr. Poroshenko in the presidential election. Mr. Zelensky ran on a platform of eliminating corruption in the Ukrainian government and nearly all new prosecutors were appointed. Much of Mr. Giuliani’s work went to waste and they needed to start over in trying to co-opt the Ukrainians. That process began with a congratulatory phone call to the winner.
In May the president permanently recalled U.S. Ambassador Masha Yovanonitch, a career State Department employee, because she was trying to counter Mr. Giuliani’s attempts at co-opting the new government. She was, in essence, fired for working to protect the national security interests of the United States.
Later in May, Mr. Trump cancelled Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Ukrainian president’s inauguration, an embarrassing blow to the new president. In the whistle-blower’s complaint the reason was to withhold favors for Mr. Zelensky until they could determine if he would “play ball” with Mr. Trump through Mr. Giuliani — presumably meaning that they would work to discredit the Bidens and to support conspiracy theories about former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In July of this year, the Office of Management and Budget, on the direction of the president himself, according to the whistle-blower, withheld much needed military and other aid for Ukraine. When State Department and Pentagon officials tried to find out the reason, they were stonewalled. On 25 July the president made his phone call and on the 26th, envoys of the U.S. met with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials to help them “navigate the demands the president had made” the previous day.
Other outrageous details of improper behavior can be found in the complaint that the Intelligence Community (IC) Inspector General (IG) and the Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) both testified was “credible.” Both individuals were appointed by Mr. Trump.
It might also be noted quickly that Ukraine is in a fighting war with Russia. 13,000 Ukrainians have died in the fight and the Russians helped to shoot down Malaysian Air Flight 17 with the loss of all 298 people onboard. Any delay or cancellation of arms to Ukraine helps Russia in its efforts.
In the grand tradition of Washington DC, a cover-up occurred. As a minimum, the details of the phone call and other activities were over-classified and stored on a computer designed to be used for only the highest classified compartmented information. This was a decision designed to protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing domestic political activity. We do not know how many other conversations or documents are improperly classified in order to protect the president from his own actions and words by hiding them from the public and government officials that might object to such activity.
These are serious allegations that cannot be brushed away. They certainly deserve a full investigation. One can than decide for oneself whether or not the facts as they are uncovered deserve impeachment or not.
In that discussion, remember that a lot of smoke is going to be blown to try and hide the real transgressions. Some will take a narrow legal approach that no U.S. laws were actually broken. Others will argue that a president has the Constitutional right to conduct foreign policy in any manner that they choose. Some will argue it was “just a phone call” to a country that no one cares about. Others will argue that we as citizens are naive if we don’t think that this is how it is always done. Some will simply argue that there is nothing to see here, please move along.
We have a national security interest in Ukraine because if Russia gets away with its aggression, Russia has ambitions concerning other “traditional” Russian areas such as the Baltic states. As members of NATO, any attack on the Baltic states is an attack on all members of NATO, including the U.S.
I simply say that the President of the United States, by his own admission and corroborated by Mr. Giuliani and others, used his office to involve a foreign government in our national elections in an attempt to personally benefit from another nation’s activities at the expense of our own national security.
To ignore it is to condone it.