This is the third in a series of observations about the current impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. You can find the others at this site (see Impeachment 101 and Impeachment 102).
What do the Democrats say the President did wrong?
At the moment there are no formal charges against the President. The House of Representatives is looking into whether conduct related to Ukraine and arms sales could constitute an impeachment recommendation.
Specifically, the House is investigating whether the President of the United States directed subordinates to pressure the new leader of Ukraine to issue a statement saying he and his country’s judicial establishment are investigating (1) Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma (Hunter Biden was on their Board of Directors) and (2) Joe Biden’s involvement in promoting corruption within Ukraine while he was Vice President.
More specifically, the President contends that the Clinton campaign hacked its own computers using servers in Ukraine, thereby “proving” that the Russians had nothing to do with the election of 2016. In other words, it was the Democrats who were behind seeking aid from foreign powers and not Trump or any of his friends.
The pressure that was applied, according to the Democrats, was the withholding of already approved financial aid (money to purchase weapons) and a visit to the White House until the Ukrainians released a satisfactory declaration about Burisma, Bidens, and corruption.
Almost as soon as an investigation was initiated as a result of the whistleblower’s report becoming public that aid flowed – but barely four days before it would have run up against a time deadline.
What’s the Republican response to the process and potential charges?
Republicans have been dealt a pretty bad fact hand. So, they have resorted primarily to slandering witnesses and complaining about the process.
Among their objections:
- most of these witnesses are “Anti-Trumpers.” That’s incorrect. Most of these witnesses are Trump or his administration’s appointees. Or they are career public service employees who have a responsibility to maintain political neutrality. The GOP has not produced one ounce of evidence that they are politically biased.
- all of the evidence is hearsay. That’s incorrect. Some of the evidence is hearsay and some of it relies on first-person “I was there” accounts. What the GOP is not telling you is that hearsay evidence is sometimes all you can obtain, but is sufficient for informed inferences. Another thing the GOP is not telling you is that there is plenty of first source evidence, but the President and his cronies have blocked access to it or to the people who witnessed something directly. What the law often does is construe that concealed evidence is usually “Yes, I did it” evidence. In other words, if going directly to Pompeo or Bolton or Perry or any number of other people with firsthand knowledge of events would demonstrate definitively that nothing happened, then why aren’t they talking under oath?
- there’s no quid pro quo. That’s incorrect. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that Trump wanted something of value for his personal use (a declaration of an investigation of Joe Biden and his son) and that he would have gotten it if the entire scheme were not uncovered.
- well, the Ukrainians got their aid eventually, so no harm, no foul, no real reason for impeachment. That’s incorrect. True, they did get their aid eventually, but their position vis-à-vis Russia has been compromised and our role as an honest broker has also been compromised. Moreover, you don’t have to succeed at a crime for it to be a crime – what, after all, is attempted robbery or attempted murder or, in this case, attempted bribery?
- well, it’s not really all that big a deal when you get down to it. It doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. That’s incorrect and a gross example of hypocrisy, since the GOP impeached Clinton for lying about what was an insignificant, in terms of national interest, embarrassing affair. This is a matter of national security – we jeopardized an ally and fledgling democracy so our President could get some personal campaign information. We also diminished our standing internationally, assisted Putin, and harmed Ukraine in a number of ways. Much of the evidence points to attempts by the President and his friends to blame someone other than Russia for interfering in our 2016 elections – one of the many errands of Rudy Giuliani.
- the witnesses are all rogue actors or bad people. That’s incorrect. Indeed, if we were doing a character scan of the witnesses and the President and his defenders, it would not even be close.
- there is no due process in the proceedings; it’s a coup, an attempt to overturn an election. That’s partially true, since impeachment by its very nature overturns the result of an election. However, it was the checks and balances safety mechanism that our founders put into place for situations like this one. We should be applauding its existence rather than condemning it.
- well, none of this is as bad as the corruption of Vice President Biden and his son in Ukraine. That’s incorrect. First of all, whatever the Bidens might have done, it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand. In other words, it doesn’t excuse bribery by our President. However, everyone who has objectively looked into such accusations affirms that Biden, in his official capacity, did nothing untoward; rather he worked to advance the goals of our national agenda.
Burisma, the company on whose Board of Directors Hunter Biden sat, probably was involved in some corrupt practices, but they were not due to Biden’s position or influence. Yet there is ample evidence that both Energy Secretary Perry and Rudy Giuliani were engaged in influencing, perhaps unethically, business within and among energy companies in Ukraine.
- Trump was justifiably interested in the potential of a nation with a history of corruption misusing the dollars of hard-working American tax payers and he wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen. That’s incorrect. If it were true, Trump would also be trying to remove Saudi Arabia corruption and wrong-doing before selling them arms and he hasn’t. Additionally, Ukraine had already been cleared through the normal channels of investigation for the release of the money. In other words, they had already demonstrated that they were working to reduce corruption and it was unlikely to be part of the arms deal.
- Ukraine actively worked against the Trump election and some Ukrainians said bad things about him. That’s partially true. Some Ukrainians did say bad things about him, probably because he declared that it was fine with him if Russia kept Crimea and that Crimea really belonged to Russia anyway. That’s a little like saying that, should Mexico invade and take part of Texas, it would be understandable, since it was once part of Mexico anyway. And those individuals were speaking as individuals, not on behalf of the Ukrainian government. In addition, many individuals in many countries said unpleasant things about Trump during the election and he hasn’t set off on a vendetta against them.
- other nations aren’t helping Ukraine or paying their fair share and President Trump is only trying to ensure that Americans aren’t played for suckers. That’s false. Other allies are supporting the Ukrainian government in its fight with Russia.
- the Ukrainian President hasn’t complained about the bribe and says he felt no pressure from President Trump to investigate the Bidens. That’s probably false. It is true that he has said he didn’t feel pressured, but what else could he say and have a chance at getting the support he needs for his country? After all, Trump may be President for up to five more years. And, it doesn’t really matter what he says; Trump still tried to make the deal and attempted extortion is still a crime.
What do we know so far?
This is a partial summary of what we know now:
- Trump obstructed justice in plain sight by refusing to cooperate with the Ukrainian inquiry and refusing to respond to Congressional subpoenas.
- Trump obstructed justice multiple times during the Mueller investigation and those incidents are plainly outlined in the Mueller Report.
- Trump threatened witnesses, again in plain sight, by demonstrating the tweet storms and trolls he will inflict on them if they appear, even under subpoena, at the hearings (witness tampering is a serious crime). Note, for example, his attacks on the former ambassador of Ukraine.
- Trump tried to trade a visit to the White House and release of already appropriated money for a personal favor – a televised announcement of an investigation into the Bidens. At the time Joe Biden appeared to be the odds-on favorite as Democratic candidate for President and Trump wanted to begin to sully his reputation. In other words he was willing to sacrifice what was in our national interest: standing up to Russian aggression and supporting an ally.
- Trump engaged with his co-conspirators to cover up many of his dubious actions; that is obstruction of justice.
- Trump has said publicly that he would accept aid from a foreign government in his re-election campaign, asked Russia to help in 2016 and invited China to help later. It is against the law to request aid from foreign countries in American elections. (Trump has said he “was only kidding.”)
- Trump has enriched himself while in the office of President; in other words, he has run afoul of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Trump has spent nearly one-third of his time as President visiting his own properties and, with each visit, our tax dollars go to the family business. As of October 22, 2019, he had been in office 1,037 days, spent 313 of those in residence at a Trump property and 237 more days playing golf at one of his properties.
An example of the cost of such trips is that the four he made to Mar-a-Lago from February 3 – March 5, 2017 cost approximately $13.6 million. One can also make a good case that Trump’s insistence on Vice President Pence’s stay at one of his European properties while on an official visit, the publicity that flows from any official use of his properties, the multiple rentals at his Washington DC and New York City properties by foreign governments, and the proximity of his business stakeholders (his children) to the Oval Office all constitute clear conflicts of interest.
- Trump probably broke multiple campaign laws, including payment to a porn star with whom he had a brief fling, in the run-up to the 2016 election. He is likely Individual 1; Michael Cohen went to jail for carrying out Individual 1’s directions.
- Trump’s actions outlined above are all substantially proven and many of them individually constitute grounds for impeachment. Taken as a whole, they make impeachment imperative – Trump has shown time and again he is willing to trade what’s in our national interest for what’s in the Trump family’s interest. There are other things that flow from Trump behaviors, such as his chronic lying, hyperbole and slander that I personally think should be considered impeachable. For example:
- he lowered our standing in the world; no country knows whether they can believe what we say anymore;
- he diminished trust in our government and federal institutions, thereby jeopardizing our democracy;
- he demeaned his office by engaging in conduct that is unbecoming of a commander in chief and that would have gotten him drummed out of the military had he engaged in such actions as an ordinary member of the armed services;
- he promoted racist, xenophobic and misogynist violence through his tweets, his public statements and his rallies;
- he collapsed the morale in our national intelligence and foreign services, making us much more vulnerable to foreign cyber attacks (many high level people have left the service rather than work under political hacks);
- he has expanded and deepened “the swamp,” not drained it;
- he banished science from policy consideration, thereby allowing regulation interpretations at odds with reality;
- he ran afoul of international norms for armed conflict in such actions as pardoning convicted war criminals;
- he weakened many of the international agreements forged in the wake of the second world war, again making us more vulnerable to foreign attack and other countries more likely to resort to armed confrontation rather than diplomacy;
- he demonstrated that we are an untrustworthy ally (note Kurd withdrawal);
- he spread false conspiracy theories, furthering the ideological and political divides in our country;
- he engaged in nepotism and allowed access to secret documents to individuals whose behaviors raised questions about whether they qualified for such security clearances;
- he promoted unconscionable acts, often contrary to international norms, such as the treatment of asylum seekers and children at our southern borders;
- he threatened the freedom of our press and parroted language about the media that could have come out of George Orwell’s 1984; and
- on the grandest stage in the world, he behaved and continues to behave like an immature bully, setting the kind of example few of us would want to exhibit for our children. (I could go on, but I’ll spare you.)
How do we know that?
We know it from the Mueller Report, investigation, and subsequent trials; the Cohen trial and several other investigations conducted by the federal attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York; the President’s tweets, press conferences, interviews and rallies; the Intelligence Committee’s recent public hearings and the evidence from witnesses and released depositions; the Judiciary Committee’s various hearings; multiple investigative reports in various national newspapers and magazines; and various investigations carried out by reporters working for online organizations.
So what happens next?
Currently, the Intelligence Committee is writing a report of its findings with regard to Ukraine and, after a committee vote, will send it to the Judiciary Committee. It will be the duty of the Judiciary Committee to draft any impeachment charges. If it decides that behaviors merit impeachment, it will draft such charges and vote to send them to the floor of the House of Representatives. A majority vote in the House will then “impeach” the President – that is formally charge him with wrongdoing. Subsequent action would then move to the Senate.
Stay tuned for Impeachment 104.