- Oct 20, 2019
- Reaction score
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 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.