Trump, Zelensky, and Impeachment
Trump, Zelensky, and Impeachment
Washington is abuzz with impeachment talk after the transcript of Donald Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky was released. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has finally caved in to the squawking progressives in her caucus and agreed to launch an impeachment inquiry, because a so-called “whistleblower,” who wasn’t even present during the conversation complained about the call.
There are now 219 Democrats who are publicly supporting impeachment of the President, according to CNN commentator Keith Boykin, but did Trump commit an impeachable offense during that conversation?
There is much to unpack in the transcript that the White House made public today and before we get to the question of impeachment, we need to examine the conversation that supposedly put so many Democrats over the top in their support for impeachment.
The President starts out innocently enough, congratulating reality star Volodymyr Zelensky on his victory.
Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn’t given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily. It’s a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.
One cannot possibly miss Trump’s not-so-veiled, self-congratulatory reference to his own historic victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 here. Zelensky is also a television star in Ukraine, who came out of nowhere to beat incumbent president Petro Poroshenko in an almost entirely virtual election.
In his reply Zelensky flatters Trump by telling him that he learned from him, references “draining the swamp” (Ukraine is notorious for its corruption), and voices his obsequious desire for more interaction. “I think I should run more often,” Zelensky said, “so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.”
Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little.
Regardless of the syrupy sycophancy, so far there’s nothing questionable or impeachable in the conversation.
The President then immediately reminds Zelensky that the United States has done a lot for Ukraine. He’s not wrong. We continue hammering Russia with economic sanctions and we have been the leader in engaging the EU to ensure that the Europeans continue their sanctions against Russia as well for illegally annexing Crimea in 2014.
Well it is very nice of you to say that I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it’s something that you should really ask them about. When I was speaking to Angela Merkel she talks Ukraine, but she doesn’t do anything. A lot of the European countries are the same way so I think it’s something you want to look at but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.
This is a reminder of just HOW MUCH the US has done for Ukraine.The comparison to Europe and the swipe at Germany are all meant to highlight the magnanimity of the United States toward the small country. It also seems to be a reminder that Ukraine hasn’t done as much to reciprocate as it should.
Zelensky continues to flatter and metaphorically genuflect in front of Trump, thanking him for the military help, agreeing that the Europeans could be doing more, and claiming that the EU is not enforcing the sanctions it imposed on Russia after the Crimea annexation.
And that’s where Trump has his first ask.
I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people.
Note: Crowdstrike is the IT firm that investigated the DNC data breach in 2016.
I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.
Trump asks for a favor and tells Zelensky to work with Attorney General Barr to investigate “the situation in Ukraine.” He emphasizes how important Zelensky’s help is in this investigation, while taking swipes at Robert Mueller to reiterate his innocence in Russia collusion allegations.
I can’t help but be reminded of Don Corleone here.
In response, Zelensky seems to be open to the idea of helping “investigate,” and even had one of his officials meet with Rudy Guiliani after the July conversation took place to discuss Joe Biden’s role in the Ukrainian government’s dismissal of a prosecutor who was supposedly investigating an energy firm that employed Biden’s son Hunter.
Trump replies that he will have Attorney General Barr and Giuliani call Zelensky to discuss the dismissal, because the Trump administration’s narrative is that Biden pressured the Ukrainians to get rid of the prosecutor who was ostensibly investigating his son’s employer.
Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.
The truth isn’t always that simple, and the prosecutor wasn’t as good as Trump claims he was. Quite the opposite.
Yes, Biden had a role in pressuring Kyiv to dismiss prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who entered office with grand promises to critics that he would tackle corruption, claiming that he was investigating Burisma Holdings – the firm that employed Hunter Biden.
Except that might not have been exactly true.
Shokin’s deputy Vitaliy Kasko disputed his superior’s claim that he was tackling corruption, the IMF’s Christine LaGarde said at the time that far too little was being done to investigate and root out corruption, and the international community was clamoring for Shokin to be booted. After all, the IMF – the international community – were the ones giving Kyiv billions of dollars in extended fund facility money to help the country deal with its crippling debt. It would only be logical that the countries and entities involved would want to ensure that their money didn’t disappear into a black hole of corruption.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., said that Mr. Biden was making the same demands that other lenders to the Ukrainian government were making.
“Everyone in the Western community wanted Shokin sacked,” he said. “The whole G-7, the IMF, the EBRD, everybody was united that Shokin must go, and the spokesman for this was Joe Biden.”
Although Shokin claims his investigation into Burisma Holdings was honest and serious, both Ukrainian and American officials at the time had questions about the seriousness and legitimacy of Shokin’s investigations into Burisma.
So there are definite questions about whether Biden’s pressure on Ukraine to get rid of Shokin had anything to do with his son’s involvement with Burisma, or whether he called for Shokin’s ouster as part of his role as the point man on Ukraine corruption issues for the Obama administration.
Regardless, Trump in his conversation with Zelensky continues to hammer home that he wants the Biden affair investigated, and he wants Zelensky to help.
The other thing, here’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.
Zelensky responds by promising to look into the Burisma matter, and stresses that the newly-appointed prosecutor will be one of “his” people, and that the process will be honest.
Trump responds once again by promising to have the Attorney General and Giuliani call Zelensky, an apparent emphasis on the action he expects to be taken in the matter.
I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out. I heard the prosecutor was treated very badly and he was a very fair prosecutor so good luck with everything.
And then he says it again. Get it now, Zelensky? You will talk to Rudy!
I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.
Here’s the thing, folks. There was no overt quid-pro-quo. Trump never came out and said that our aid hinges on Zelensky helping him dig up dirt on his political opposition.
However, the call was ugly. It was unethical, and it smelled of pressure. After all, when the leader of the free world stresses just how good he is to you, asks you to do him a favor, and proceeds to emphasize several times that you will talk not only to his personal lawyer, but also to the Attorney General of the United States about “investigating” his political opposition, it smells of abuse of power.
The United States is not a mob empire. It’s a beautiful, moral, free nation and should set an example for the rest of the world to follow. Using the resources of the US government to investigate your political adversaries is hardly ethical, and the defense that there was no obvious quid-pro-quo is weak.
This is not OK.
Ukraine’s corruption is common knowledge. Shokin was tossed out on his ear because he not only refused to tackle corruption, but was a part of it.
…as a prosecutor, Shokin was about as far away from “good” and “fair” as you can imagine. During his 2015-2016 tenure as chief prosecutor, Shokin did two things: He covered for the criminality of powerful figures close to then-President Petro Poroshenko, and he earned the ire of just about every anti-corruption group in Ukraine.
The specifics of Shokin’s corruption are most obvious in what he did not do. As Bloomberg documented in May, Shokin was particularly opposed to investigating high-wealth individuals suspected of corruption. Why those individuals? Presumably because a little of their high wealth would find its way into Shokin’s hands if he was able to make their problems go away. This obviously infuriated civil society activists who noticed that Shokin was stonewalling obvious investigative needs.
Trump’s claim that Biden forced out Shokin because he was investigating his son’s business dealings is a load of hot garbage to anyone who has followed Ukrainian politics during the last several decades.
What Trump did during his call with Zelensky was use his position and authority to put pressure on the president of another nation to help him dig up dirt on the man who is most likely to be his Democratic challenger for the White House next year.
Filthy and unethical? Yes.
Worthy of impeachment? Probably not.
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