Impeachment enquiry, at last
Initiation of the enquiry against Trump is a major step towards protecting the US democracy
With the explosive whistleblower revelation that Trump allegedly threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine to get dirt on the family of Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced the launching of a formal impeachment inquiry against the President of the United States. Speaking at the Capitol Tuesday evening, Pelosi said that Trump's "enlistment of a foreign power to intervene in a U.S. election" amounts to a "betrayal of his oath of office, of our national security, and of the integrity of our elections."
According to the claims of an anonymous source inside the intelligence establishment, Trump put the squeeze on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into the activities of the former Vice President and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump admits such a telephone call took place, and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says it did indeed deal with obtaining compromising material on Biden, currently one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. It has also been confirmed that in July, before the call with Zelensky happened, Trump had already ordered his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to hold back $391 million in military aid to Ukraine, money which has since been released.
The so-far anonymous official familiar with the details of the call made a whistleblower report to the inspector general responsible for overseeing the US intelligence agencies a short time later. Trump's acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, blocked that report from being shared to Congress—which is required by law.
The White House's blocking of the report is a violation of the US Constitution, and Pelosi said that when Maguire testifies on Thursday, he will have to choose whether to follow the law and turn the report over to Congress or remain a Trump loyalist. The rough transcript of the call, released just as this article goes to press, suggests Trump pushed Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden, further implicating the administration.
With Pelosi's announcement, the investigations currently being carried out by six different House committees will now proceed under the umbrella of an overall impeachment inquiry. The move finally opens a path for Congress to officially consider charges of "high crimes and misdemeanours" committed by Trump.
An impeachment inquiry is long overdue. The crimes of Donald Trump have been piling up since before he ever took office and have only escalated since Inauguration Day 2017. There were the glaring obstructions of justice committed by Trump that were laid out in the Mueller Report, the result of the probe into Trump's earlier collusion with an outside government—Russia—to tilt the US election. The president spared no effort in his battle to shut down and interfere with that investigation, blocking it at every turn for nearly two years. He fired FBI Director James Comey. He ordered associates to lie when giving testimony or blocked them from testifying at all. He intimidated witnesses. He refused to turn over documents when subpoenaed. He tried to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, completely.
But the crimes committed by this administration go far beyond the Mueller probe and Trump's obstruction of it. He has used his office for personal profit, steering foreign governments to deal with his family's hotel businesses—a violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. He conspired with his former attorney Michael Cohen to use campaign money to pay off women to cover up affairs—a violation of election finance laws. By stealing money meant for other government projects to fund his racist border wall and child concentration camps, he infringed on the appropriations authority of Congress, a violation of the Constitutional separation of powers.
He has defied Congress by continuing to provide arms to Saudi Arabia, a country that has killed tens of thousands in its war in Yemen and cut Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to pieces for daring to speak out.
As damning as all this may be, it is likely only a fraction of the crimes committed by this president. The probes of Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee and others have continued to expose further evidence of election interference, money laundering, bribery, wire fraud, and more. Though it has long been obvious that Trump repeatedly violated the Constitution, Pelosi and others in the Democratic leadership made the political calculation that pursuing impeachment could motivate the president's base and cost votes. The blocking of the whistleblower report though was apparently—finally—too much.
Trump's latest election interference efforts merit condemnation, but so too does the Ukrainian government that he was trying to extort into helping him take down Biden. That government is not one worth supporting, and the US should never have been supplying it with military aid in the first place. It is a far-right, ultra-nationalist state that employs fascist paramilitaries to silence its critics, persecutes its Russian-speaking citizens, honours Nazi collaborators, and cooperates with NATO plans to push military outposts right up to the Russian border in violation of agreements made at the end of the Cold War. Its agents have burned trade unionists alive and it has attempted to outlaw all left opposition, including the Communist Party of Ukraine. And, pushed along by the IMF, it has embarked on a whirlwind privatisation campaign that has handed over dozens of publicly-owned industries to corrupt corporate business interests.
The state that Zelensky now heads was established in the aftermath of a coup that overthrew previous President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014—a coup which was heavily supported by the US and other Western powers. Zelensky himself only recently took office. He came to national prominence as a comedian and actor, playing a high school history teacher who is elected president of Ukraine.
A vocal supporter of the 2014 coup, Zelensky played an anti-corruption activist on TV and carried on with the role during his campaign, implying that the "revolution" had gone off the rails and that as a political outsider he could save it. Since taking office, though, Zelensky has surrounded himself with a number of characters with shady histories and filled public positions with friends from the entertainment industry. He's declared his support for Ukrainian membership in both the EU and NATO, said Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, and is a hero for many Ukrainians and continues to showcase his hefty donations to the Ukrainian army during its war with Russia.
The so-called "Euromaidan" revolution of 2014 that established the current Ukrainian state is where the questions surrounding the Bidens enter the picture. In April 2014, two months after the coup, Hunter Biden was appointed to the board of directors of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The younger Biden had no previous experience in either Ukraine or the gas industry, yet he was paid as much as $50,000 for his services, whatever they may have been.
Trump alleges that then-Vice President Joe Biden used his position in the Obama administration to shield his son's company and some of its executives from being investigated by a Ukrainian prosecutor for alleged money laundering and corruption. According to the New York Times, there is no evidence so far that the senior Biden "intentionally tried to help his son" when he pressed for the investigating prosecutor to be dismissed.
The Trump campaign is circulating video footage of Biden telling an audience last year that he threatened Ukrainian officials with the blocking of $1 billion in loan guarantees in 2016 if they did not fire the prosecutor. In Biden's own words, "Well, son of a bitch, he got fired". The prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was himself the subject of many corruption investigations, and there is at this time no clear line connecting Biden's efforts to his son's company. It is an established fact that the US was just one of many foreign governments and international institutions that wanted Shokin out. But the appearance of the potential for conflict of interest was there ever since Hunter Biden took up the position and remains today. Regardless of whatever dirt may or may not exist on Biden, of course, Trump's attempted enlistment of Zelensky to interfere in the 2020 US elections remains a crime worthy of impeachment.
The opening of an impeachment enquiry won't necessarily mean that there will be a vote to impeach—i.e., to officially charge Trump with high crimes and misdemeanours. Some in the Democratic Party who oppose impeachment for reasons of political expediency surely hope that a long, drawn-out inquiry will be enough to get them to Election Day. Nor does it follow that the GOP-controlled Senate would convict and remove Trump if he is impeached; it almost certainly won't.
But it will absolutely change the whole dynamic of the 2020 campaign. The unfolding of a formal case against Trump, the presentation of further damning evidence, and televised Congressional hearings will mark a permanent historical stain on his administration and leave him criminally indicted in the eyes of voters, perhaps many up to this point in Trump's camp. Republicans will pivot to defending him, yet again, but it will be increasingly difficult for them to say Trump has done nothing wrong. Right away, they are already redirecting the fire toward Biden. They will rely on GOP-packed courts to slow down the process—which should remind Democrats in Congress to use their own constitutional authority to compel testimony rather than the courts.
When it comes to the president, Republicans will turn to a fear campaign, asking voters to think about whom they trust with the economy? With the border and immigration? To take on China? And to mobilise the base, there will probably be more anti-immigrant and white supremacist rhetoric and a ratcheting up of international tensions, especially toward countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.
Democrats up and down the ballot will surely be quick to pile on in favour of impeachment now that Pelosi has finally opened the gates. While that is appropriate, it will be up to the small democratic movements and organised labour to make sure that other top priorities—like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and expanding Social Security—do not suffocate as impeachment sucks all the air from the room. The 2020 elections are just over a year away, and whether Trump or somebody else is the GOP candidate, there is a tough fight ahead, a battle of ideas that transcends the current occupant of the White House. Regardless of what comes in the immediate future, the opening of a formal impeachment enquiry is a major step forward in preserving and protecting the US democracy. It must also become the first step toward defeating not just Trump but all the corporate, militarist, and racist interests he represents.
(Courtesy: Peoples World. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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