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The Corruption Blog

A new series by Sean Gray that digs into the details of the all-encompassing corruption of the Trump administration.

Blog Post # 10: Bribery is an Impeachable Offense

Bribery, extortion and quid pro quo have all been used to describe the conduct of President Trump towards Ukraine in the Impeachment Inquiry. $400 million in critical military aid to the US ally was put on hold. It was the intention of the president to secure investigations (or at least an announcement of them) into Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s work with the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma. Through weeks of public and private testimony these facts have been established and little doubt remains that the two were connected.

Regardless of terminology, Trump’s actions can be, at best, descried as improper and inappropriate, at worst, illicit and treasonous. Bribery is a logical focal point for the inquiry as it is specifically listed in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. It would also represent an abuse of office, which is also grounds for impeachment and removal.

The textbook definition of bribery is ‘’corrupt solicitation,

acceptance or transfer of value in exchange for an official act.’’ The statue guards against impropriety by public officials and provides the system recourse when officials prioritize their personal interests over those they represent.

The Thing of Value

The field for the Democratic presidential nomination is a crowded one. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the frontrunner according to almost every national poll. Donald Trump enjoys rabid support amongst his strong base, but has never seen his overall approval rating rose  above 40%. He is deeply unpopular with large swaths of the electorate and faces an uphill battle for reelection. The stakes for him are uniquely high. A loss could subject him to an indictment for the various instances of obstruction of justice outlined in the Mueller Report or for financial crimes in the Southern District of New York. No incumbent president has ever had as much to lose by not securing a second term. Trump needs every advantage he can find for his 2020 bid and in this case enlisted the help of a foreign head of state.

The president has repeatedly demonstrated a tenuous grasp of issues that matter to voters. His 2016 campaign heard more chants like ‘’Build the Wall’’ and ‘’Lock Her Up’’ than it did any substantive discussion of key issues facing the nation. In soliciting an investigation of his chief political adversary, Trump was looking for new material for an old political trope. Had all gone according to his nefarious plan, he could have done enough damage to knock Biden from his perch atop the DNC leaderboard, or spent debates baselessly slamming his corrupt conduct. In 2016 Trump fixated on Hilary Clinton’s emails and her involvement in the Benghazi attacks. Often and loudly he asserted her actions were criminal. Extensive investigation revealed her conduct was not improper and the matter yielded no criminal convictions. Nevertheless, his base ate it up and it helped secure him the narrowest of wins in the race. No credible evidence has emerged of wrongdoing by either Biden.

The Official Act

When House Democrats were establishing their quid pro quo narrative, the freeze on military aid and a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky were said to be the commodities leveraged for the Biden investigations to take place. The hold or release of Congressionally-Approved military aid is an official act. Arranging a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not. Ukraine’s dependence on foreign assistance is literally a matter of life and death. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian forces have resisted further incursion by Russian-backed seperatists. The conflict has claimed 13,000 lives in the past five years. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been shy about wanting to reestablish his country as a global superpower, so the illegal annexation of Crimea should not be taken lightly or as a one-off. When Congress voted to authorize lethal aid to the US’ embattled ally, it was a bipartisan show of support and strong pushback against Kremlin aggression. Donald Trump’s attempt to subvert that support for his personal benefit is an egregious official act, an abuse of office and yet another example of his coziness towards Russia.

Trump’s supporters are quick to point out that no one directly heard the president say that he was withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for digging up dirt on a political opponent. Aside from being a laughably weak defense, it hardly matters. Any objective analysis of the evidence presented before Congress since September reveals a diversion of foreign policy that confounded experienced diplomats and served the benefit of one man. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s  personal lawyer has acknowledged trips to Ukraine in the hopes of instigating investigations into the Bidens. He told the New York Times ‘’We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.’’

The testimony of William Taylor and Fiona Hill revealed a backchannel of diplomacy where stated foreign policy goals took a backseat to investigations the president wanted announced; where control was wrested from career officials and replaced with personal appointees and associates of Trump’s. Trump mega-donor and EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that it was his understanding that military aid for Ukraine was contingent upon Zelensky announcing investigations into the Bidens.

Trump finally released the aid on September 11th, after a concerted effort to initiate the investigations he wanted done, after a whistle-blower complaint about the incident had been made, and  after a Politico story detailing the freeze.

The president’s defenders would point to the fact that the aid was released and none of the investigations into Biden or Burisma were ever announced. To do so would require one to draw a line between the two and ignore everything in between. Both the freeze on the military assistance and its eventual release were official acts in Trump’s capacity as president. A preponderance of evidence suggests that the initial hold was tied directly to  Ukraine bending to the demands of Trump and his cronies. Those demands were intended to benefit the president and no one else. Only after the rouse was exposed did he and his cohorts abandon it. A bank robber who gives himself up when he hears the helicopters and SWAT team outside is still subject to the penalty for robbing a bank.

 

Photo by unsplash-logoJp Valery

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