Two weeks of dramatic and compelling testimony in the House impeachment inquiry has made one thing perfectly clear: President Donald Trump’s oft-touted “perfect” July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was far from perfect. Everyone but the morally blind who has tied his or her political future to the most corrupt president in our history understands that the evidence leads to only one conclusion: The president must be impeached and convicted.
Here are some of the major lessons — much of which was already known — from the hearings:
First, there can be no doubt that Trump withheld an Oval Office meeting important to the newly elected Zelensky and military aid critical to Ukraine for its battle against Russian aggression in exchange for an announcement of two investigations. One investigation would be geared to implicating Ukraine instead of Russia in interfering in the 2016 presidential election and the other would be to smear former Vice President Joe Biden with fake and drummed up charges of corruption.
Second, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union testified that the investigations had merely to be announced, not actually conducted. An announcement, for example, of the Biden investigation would enable Trump to smear Biden with accusations of corruption, presumably because Trump viewed Biden as his most formidable potential 2020 opponent.
Third, Trump’s desire for Ukraine to conduct investigations was not motivated by concern for U.S. national security, but solely demanded to benefit Trump politically. Republican defenders of Trump are correct in saying that the United States often insists foreign countries take certain actions in exchange for American assistance, But, what is omitted in this defense is that such leverage is proper when it advances American policy objectives — not the personal and/or political interests of one individual.
Fourth, Trump believes the apparatus of the government exists merely to serve him and not the long-term interests of the United States. This has been apparent from day one of the Trump administration, but the hearings made it abundantly clear to everyone watching and reading about them.
Fifth, as Sondland testified — and many others corroborated — there was a quid pro quo in this shady enterprise. Republicans argue that no witness in the hearings testified to Trump specifically ordering aid and a meeting for the investigations. Mob bosses — whose style Trump uses — rarely explicitly authorize criminal behavior. Rather, orders frequently are conveyed by hint and indirection. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen testified before Congress that the president adopted this style of management, which goes back at least to the12th century when Henry II asked of Thomas Becket, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
Sixth, the weak Republican defense of Trump turns also on the assertion that the testimony of the witnesses was hearsay. That is not accurate. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Ukrainian specialist on the National Security Council, and Pence aide Jennifer Williams were on the July 25 call, and David Holmes, a U.S. official in Kyiv, clearly heard a very loud Donald Trump express, in a cellphone call with Sondland, interest in an investigation of the Bidens. Besides, hearsay testimony is often admissible.
Seventh, if Republicans truly believe all the testimony is second-hand and thus suspect, there is a remedy available to them. Join with Democrats in calling upon the Trump administration to permit everyone implicated in the scandal to testify under oath.
Eighth, virtually the entire upper echelon of the Trump administration is implicated in this criminal enterprise. Sondland named Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in the plot. There is plenty of corroborating evidence of their complicity.
Ninth, both Sondland and William Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, were right in describing the Ukraine extortion caper as not a rogue operation — Sondland’s view — and an irregular diplomatic channel — Taylor’s characterization. The operation was not rogue in that it was directed by the president and implemented by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and many American officials. But, American policy toward Ukraine occupied two channels: The official American policy to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression and the personal Trump policy to sacrifice Ukraine for his personal political benefit.
Tenth, the Ukrainians knew of the delay in aid long before the aid was released. Their knowledge undermines a key Republican talking point. A related GOP talking point — the Ukrainians got the aid in the end — evaporates upon realization that the aid was released only because the administration got caught when the whistleblower report came out.
Eleventh, Republicans still blame the wrong country for interfering in the 2016 election. Former National Security Council advisor Fiona Hill eloquently chastised Republicans — including, by inference, the president — for continuing to push a false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, was the guilty country.
Twelfth, the hearings revealed for Americans who have little or no contact with career government employees — in this case, Foreign Service officials and employees of the Department of Defense and National Security Council — the impressive dedication of public officials serving the United States — no matter whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican. The officials who testified are the real heroes in this sordid affair, as is, by the way, the whistleblower who had the courage to reveal Trump’s machinations in the first place.
Thirteenth, Trump will get away with his crimes because of the spinelessness of his lackeys in the Senate who will vote not to convict. And, an exoneration — such as it will be — will only embolden our amoral president to engage in a similar endeavor in the future. Remember, the phone call to Zelensky took place the day after former special counsel Robert Mueller gave his desultory testimony on Capitol Hill. The juxtaposition of those dates convinced House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, that an impeachment inquiry was necessary.
Though the Senate will not vote to convict, the impeachment inquiry — which will almost certainly lead to a vote in the House to impeach Trump — was necessary. The facts have been laid out for everyone to see, and history has been well served with evidence of presidential wrongdoing.
Posted November 26, 2019