Ukraine situation - a primer (1 Viewer)

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TaylorB

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By Taylor Bassett - Staff Writer | 1588967955253.png @bassett_taylor | MadAboutPolitics.com


Ukraine is part of the former USSR and is bordered to its east by Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has inserted itself into Ukrainian politics in order to maintain control in the country, while many Ukrainians have sought to cut ties with Russia and align with western ideals. For example, in 2014 Ukraine revolted against its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, after he sided with Vladimir Putin and defied a vote to join the European Union. In addition to maintaining political control, Russia has engaged in military efforts to physically control portions of Ukraine, particularly in the east. One example of this was Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Ukraine is in an ongoing military conflict with Russia as we speak.

Official US foreign policy toward Ukraine has been clear – we support Ukraine and oppose Russian aggression in that region. We have taken specific bipartisan actions designed to deter Russian political and military aggression. This includes imposition of sanctions against Russia (over the annexation of Crimea, for example), as well as providing Ukraine with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, which includes training, equipment, and weapons, including javelin missiles capable of destroying Russian tanks.

The impeachment investigation centers on the theory that the Trump administration was withholding aid to Ukraine in order to use it as leverage against Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky. The theory suggests that Trump saw Zelensky’s election victory as an opportunity to get two things he wanted from Ukraine, both pertaining to his odds to win the 2020 election: first, Trump believed he could use Zelensky to damage Joe Biden by announcing an investigation into his son’s company, Burisma. Second, Trump thought Zelensky might help him publicize conspiracy theories that would potentially implicate Ukraine, as opposed to Russia, in the 2016 election interference campaign, which would discredit the Mueller investigation (notably, Mueller had testified on July 24, the day prior to Trump’s well-known call with Zelensky).

The facts we’ve learned so far – some direct, and some circumstantial – tend to support the theory that Trump leveraged and withheld military aid in exchange for personal political benefit. Some of the inculpatory facts include:
  • The Trump administration cannot provide a legitimate explanation as to why the aid was withheld;
  • No one in the OMB or NSC knows why the aid was being withheld;
  • The Trump administration had set up an “irregular” foreign policy apparatus through Rudy Giuliani designed to conceal Giuliani's influence campaign;
  • US officials in the “regular” foreign policy channel to Ukraine did not understand why aid was being withheld;
  • No one is able to provide an alternative explanation for what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine in recent months;
  • Numerous non-partisan witnesses, including diplomats involved with Ukraine policy, ultimately came to understand (after being kept out of the “irregular” loop) that aid was being withheld as part of a potential quid pro quo for investigations;
  • Certain people within the “irregular” channel, including Ambassador Sondland, have admitted under oath that military aid was conditioned on Zelensky publicly announcing an investigation;
  • Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo on TV;
  • The transcript of the Zelensky call, in the context of prior communications with Ukraine via our “irregular” back-channel, indicates that Zelensky must have understood that the reason aid was being withheld was because he had not yet publicly announced these investigations;
  • The Trump administration has gone to great lengths to prevent those with knowledge from testifying;
  • The Trump administration hid the transcript of the call on a private server until it became obvious that the public, after learning of the concealed whistleblower complaint, would demand its release; and
  • The Trump administration has offered practically zero exculpatory evidence.
The defenses have evolved depending on the circumstances of each daily news cycle. They range from “there was no quid pro quo” to “there was a quid pro quo but it’s not impeachable” to “this is all partisan” to “where’s the whistleblower” to “the inquiry shouldn’t be done in secret” to “the inquiry shouldn’t be a public spectacle.” I suspect most people who have been paying attention understand that the theory of the case has largely been correct; yet, none of the Trump defenders on media outlets seem particularly interested in addressing the gravity of what’s being alleged on its substance.

The impeachment inquiry is on track to prove with reasonable certainty that Trump was, in systematic fashion, deliberately undermining US foreign policy in Ukraine for political gain. He did it through private, irregular channels designed to prevent ordinary Americans from understanding what he was doing. In the process, he solicited a bribe from Ukraine in violation of federal bribery laws and possibly federal election laws. Assuming US foreign policy with Ukraine stems from an accurate assessment of national security implications, then the withholding of aid unquestionably made the US less safe. It has future implications, too, in that we are a less reliable ally if those who rely upon us cannot trust us due to internal corruption.

Generally speaking, we elect our leaders to make decisions on foreign policy with the implicit understanding that they will try their best to do what’s right for the country. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. Our democratic process allows us the benefit of 20-20 hindsight in that we can re-elect the leaders that make decisions that work out, and vote against leaders whose decisions don’t work out. Impeachment was not designed as a substitute for the democratic process for situations when, in hindsight, we really don’t like decisions our leaders made. But it is precisely designed for situations in which our leaders are making decisions which not only have nothing to do with advancing US interests, but rather run precisely contrary to those interests.

The behavior here very clearly fits into the latter category. While I tend to see Trump's Ukraine behavior as part of a broader pattern (and story-line, but that's for another post) – Trump lied about Russia interfering in 2016 while at the same time lying about negotiating a giant deal in Moscow; he repeatedly uses his properties to enrich himself off the presidency; he cheated on his wife with a pornstar then violated campaign finance laws to pay her off; etc. – it’s also reasonable to support an impeachment inquiry without having to accept that there’s a nefarious pattern here, because the conduct with Ukraine in and of itself is the kind which the founding founders decided was impeachable. Moreover, although Trump’s actions in withholding aid for Ukraine against Russia directly benefited Putin, for purposes of impeachment we do not need to decide whether Trump intended to benefit Putin if his clandestine actions were contrary to US foreign policy (for the reasons discussed above, they were).

I’m not surprised that the thrust of the opposition to the impeachment inquiry is that it is hopelessly partisan – as impeachment defenses go, it’s low-hanging fruit which I assume has been and will be used in every impeachment inquiry in US history. I am surprised, though, at how quickly many people, including our elected leaders, are willing to dismiss the allegations in light of how gravely they impact US foreign policy and national security. I sincerely hope those who dismiss the impeachment inquiry as “anti-Trump” and partisan take the time to understand the gravity of what occurred, and what’s at stake, and consider that there is a reasonable, non-partisan point of view that impeachment is in the best interest of the country.
 

FullMonte

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While this is an overall very informative post, I would take issue with one of your bullet points.

  • The Trump administration hid the transcript of the call on a private server until it became obvious that the public, after learning of the concealed whistleblower complaint, would demand its release; and
This statement implies that, due to the public cries, the Trump administration released the transcript of the call that was hidden away on the improper server. That is not the case. Due to the public outcry, the Trump administration released a memo that outlines their notes on what the call consisted of. The actual transcript is still hidden away on the server (assuming it hasn't been destroyed).
 
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TaylorB

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While this is an overall very informative post, I would take issue with one of your bullet points.



This statement implies that, due to the public cries, the Trump administration released the transcript of the call that was hidden away on the improper server. That is not the case. Due to the public outcry, the Trump administration released a memo that outlines their notes on what the call consisted of. The actual transcript is still hidden away on the server (assuming it hasn't been destroyed).
Fair enough. The point was that the release of the call memo was an effort to get ahead of the story as opposed to an effort to be transparent. I assumed, I suppose incorrectly, that there was no other separate “transcript” that would more accurately reflect the words used in the call. Relatedly, and this is a point I didn’t make before, Trump defenders’ narrow focus on the words used in that call memo deliberately obscures the fact that this was a relatively small piece of the overall puzzle.
 

MT15

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Thank you, Taylor. I find this to be a helpful synopsis. It’s easier to read it all in one post, rather than piecemeal throughout a longer thread.
 

st dude

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  • The Trump administration cannot provide a legitimate explanation as to why the aid was withheld;
  • No one in the OMB or NSC knows why the aid was being withheld;

This is what is most compelling for me. Would any of the posters on here who think no quid pro quo happened, please address these points.

If there was any legitimate reason aid approved by Congress for Ukraine was withheld, we would have certainly heard it by now, indeed it would be front and center for the Trump defense. Right?

The cross examination of career diplomats by republican congressmen has been shameless. They know Trump held up aid for a political advantage. They are selling their souls to be re-elected because conceding what Trump obviously did is political suicide for them.

Is this not obvious to everyone? The republicans would be screaming for Obama’s head if he did this.

Now might some, if nor many, democrats be less outraged if Obama had done the same thing? I would not argue that point. But that wouldn’t make it right and I can unequivocally state I would in favor of impeaching Obama or any other president for what Trump did.
 

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The first lethal military assistance to the Ukraine from the United States was approved by DJT over a year ago.
 

st dude

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The first lethal military assistance to the Ukraine from the United States was approved by DJT over a year ago.

Archie you are dodging the question. It’s not in dispute that military aid to Ukraine was delayed. The question is, if not to squeeze Ukraine into investigating Biden, then why?

The original post points out that a weakness in the republican defense is their inability to give any plausible reason why aid was delayed. Can you address that?
 
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TaylorB

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The first lethal military assistance to the Ukraine from the United States was approved by DJT over a year ago.
Archie, in 2016, Trump's national security advisory committee aggressively fought with the Republican National Committee over the RNC platform calling for "lethal" assistance to Ukraine in response to Russian aggression. Quite literally, the only change Trump's team demanded the RNC make ahead of the convention was to change the words of his foreign policy speech from "lethal defense weapons [to Ukraine]" to instead say "appropriate assistance." In other words, in July 2016 it was of utmost importance to Trump that he not say publicly that the US would provide lethal aid to Ukraine, lest he provoke Putin.

The Mueller Report (pages 123-131) says these changes were made at the behest of Jeff Sessions and his deputy J.D. Gordon, both of whom at the time were regularly meeting with the Russian diplomat Sergei Kislyak (Sessions later lied and said he never met with any Russians during the campaign). This platform change was also being pushed by Manafort, who, at the same time, was regularly meeting with people tied Russian military intelligence (see discussion about Konstantin Kilimnik starting on p. 131). Finally, when the Trump administration finally did provide javelins to Ukraine, it was under the condition that they could not be used in the war against Russia.

But again, the purpose of my posts is not to convince you that the Ukraine bribe was done with the intention of appeasing Putin, though it's inconceivable given the above information to think it didn't play a factor with Trump. The point here is that Trump's prior agreement to provide lethal aid with strings attached was made reluctantly, at best, and in any event, it is self-evident that the plan to bribe Zelensky only could have materialized in 2019 after Zelensky was elected, notwithstanding whatever had been done with aid prior to that.
 

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