New reports that President Trump has colluded with a foreign power in his re-election bid have revived efforts to impeach him. Republican Bill Weld, who is running against him for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, says that if true, Trump has committed treason and deserves the death penalty. What is going on, and what does it mean?
According to a “whistleblower” in the intelligence community, President Trump had a phone call with the President of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he told him to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. As leverage, Trump put a hold on $400 million of military aid that had been appropriated by Congress.
By coercing the Ukraine to dig up dirt on his likely Democratic opponent, Trump was conspiring with a foreign government to interfere in the upcoming U.S. election.
That’s the construction being put on the phone call, an event that the White House confirms, while insisting that the call was innocent and appropriate.
Does this call constitute treason and deserve the death penalty? Who would be the “enemy” to whom it was giving aid and comfort? Is this reason for impeachment? Was it a high crime? A misdemeanor?
This incident is very different from the accusations investigated by the Mueller commission, the allegations that Russia helped put Trump into office. The fear, determined by the Mueller investigation to be unfounded, was that the President of the United States might be, in effect, a Russian agent, who does the bidding of a hostile nation. The new allegations are that Trump tried to get a friendly nation to do his bidding.
If Trump tried to get a foreign president to do him a political favor, that may well have been improper, but it’s hard to see how it was illegal. Taking advantage of his presidential clout might have been an abuse of his power, but was it criminal? Fox news commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano says that it is, that soliciting aid for campaign from a foreign government is a crime, as is bribery, which is how Trump’s use of aid money could be construed.
But if this Ukrainian phone call may hurt Trump, it may also hurt Joe Biden even worse by calling attention to his collusion with Ukraine. While he was Vice-President, his son Hunter was put on the board of Burisma, a shady Ukrainian natural gas company, which paid his $50,000 per month. The Ukraine has been rife with corruption, and the country’s prosecutor general Viktor Shokin was reportedly investigating the company.
Whereupon Joe Biden, the Vice-President of the United States, demanded that Shokin be removed from office! The protective dad put a hold on $1 billion of loan guarantees unless the Ukrainian government did his bidding! Which, of course, they did!
Biden publicly and on video bragged about leveraging the $1 billion and getting Shokin fired. Biden claims, though, that he wanted the prosecutor fired because he was not being tough enough in cracking down on corruption!
Now why would the Vice-President of the United States of America interfere in a personnel decision of a relatively minor sovereign nation? Perhaps the U.S. government might tell another country that they need to do more to curb corruption, even saying that they won’t receive aid until they do. But why specify a particular employee? Wouldn’t it be for the government in question to decide how they would comply with the American request? Would an American official on the level of the Vice-President complain that a cabinet member in Moldova is not doing a good job and demand that he be removed? It certainly sounds like the Vice-President had a personal issue with this particular prosecutor.
The media is tip-toeing around the Biden connections. The mainstream accounts that I have been reading (such as this and this) keep saying that “there is no evidence” of wrongdoing on the part of Joe or Hunter Biden. But how do they know there is no evidence? Gathering evidence is the purpose of investigations. Shouldn’t the allegations be investigated to see if there is any evidence they are true, and, if not, to clear those who have been accused?
If it’s not the job of the President to request those investigations, isn’t it the job of the news media to investigate the Bidens’ Ukrainian connections?
UPDATE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after resisting calls to impeach the president over the Russia controversy, has approved the launching of a formal impeachment inquiry.
UPDATE: The White House has released a transcript of the phone call. “Crowdstrike” is a reference to a company involved in the controversy over Russian efforts influence the 2016 election, efforts that originated in the Ukraine, the concern of the Mueller investigation. See Mollie Hemingway’s discussion of the transcript.
Photo: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79086275