The latest alleged malfeasance by President Trump involves an inappropriate conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. On August 12th a whistleblower filed a complaint with Michael Atkinson, Intelligence Community Inspector General, concerning a troubling interaction between the two presidents. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over their involvement with a Ukrainian gas company. He did so while withholding $250 million in previously approved military aid. Now an impeachment inquiry is in the works.
The money began flowing to Ukraine in 2015, in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Its purpose was to assist a struggling ally and push back against further Kremlin aggression. Trump put a hold on the money earlier in the fiscal year to ensure America’s interest were being looked after in relation to foreign aid. He asked the Department of Defense to look into the package, which included $50 million in weaponry. It is worth noting that the Trump administration was the first one to explicitly sign off on ‘’lethal weapons’’ for Ukraine. The DoD approved the aid, viewing the money as a wise investment, yet the money sat idle in the government’s coffers. Congressional Democrats grew frustrated by the delay and were set to vote on an amendment to prevent future stall tactics in defense spending when the money was released on September 12th. The President offered no explanation for his sudden change of heart.
Whistle blower complaints in the executive branch are designed to protect classified information, while providing a system of checks against presidential misconduct. In this case an anonymous source went to Atkinson reporting on the conversation between Trump and Zelensky and more that we still don’t know about. The focus of the complaint was a ‘’promise’’ made by Trump to said unnamed leader, presumably Zelensky. Atkinson began a preliminary investigation and found the complaint credible and urgent. In terms of US law a “credible and urgent complaint” is defined as ‘’a serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of the executive branch or deficiency.’’ In accordance with statute Atkinson turned a copy of the complaint over to acting DNI head, Joseph Maguire, who then had seven days to provide Congress with a copy. Maguire failed to do so, allegedly at the direction of the White House. The Trump Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel provided Maguire with specious legal cover, which has been rendered moot in light of the President’s new decision to release a transcript of the call in question.
Trump, true to form, has denied any wrongdoing, but not that he didn’t discuss the Bidens with Zelensky. His explanation for withholding the military aid changed literally overnight. On Monday, the 23rd he was worried about the money going to a corrupt country like the Ukraine. On Tuesday, the 24th, it was because European nations are not paying their fair share. The first explanation is laughable coming from him, and the second is factually incorrect.
The man who spent more than two years denying he solicited foreign help to win the 2016 election, seems to have done just that to boost his 2020 reelection bid. A key difference between the two scenarios is that the bar for impeachment is lower than conviction in criminal court. Trump has survived a myriad of scandals leading up to and during his presidency. However if the impeachment investigation substantiates the charges against him and/or reveal additional criminal conduct, the Democrats could flip enough Senate Republicans to remove him from office. If proven true, even his staunchest allies may have difficulty defending a President who attempted to extort an ally for his own benefit.
Photo by Rae Tian