Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One

Photograph Source: Paul Sableman – CC BY 2.0

It’s almost always kind of a circle jerk when congressional committees interrogate those involved with the Executive Branch. One can’t help but think that many of the folks doing the questioning have dreams of being part of that branch some time in their political career. This applies to members of both parties. Most of the politicians and bureaucrats who are in the hearing room share a basic mindset. They believe in US exceptionalism and most of its wars. They tend to ignore the bloody reality of the nation’s history and act as if its mission truly is blessed by their god, which for most of them is some version of Jesus Christ, although not one that the New Testament necessarily agrees with. In other words, there are lots of rich men ignoring that admonition from Jesus about camels, eyes of needles and rich guys getting into heaven. Most of them probably believe they’ll defy the odds. If they can’t buy off St. Peter, they’ll take him out. Kind of like what Wall Street and its friends just did in Bolivia.

In other words, most of these elected representatives of the people and the bureaucrats they are questioning think more alike than they do differently. Everything was going smoothly until Donald Trump and his minions convinced the rightwing Republicans (a redundancy, I know) to make a deal. Get him in the White House and he would get all their reactionary legislation done. Make a deal with the bloated dealmaker and goddammit he’ll get those oil wells in the ocean and sell off the public land, get gays out of the military, lock up immigrants, and just well you know make this a safe place for white people again. No more Black presidents, even the kind that doesn’t do much for Black people. The rest of the political world didn’t know what hit them at first. They thought they were dealing with a man who respected them and they kept bending to his will in the hope that he might give them something, just a little something to bring home to those who elected them. Almost four years in, the Democrats realized that this scenario just wasn’t going to happen. Trump wasn’t going to play the game according to the rules. He was establishing his own regime, tossing those who didn’t go along out on their asses, bullying timid lawmakers and making a huge joke of the entire system those founding fathers designed. The rubicon was crossed when that phone call was exposed. Extorting a foreign ruler for personal gain and pretending it was diplomacy-as-usual was a step too far. If it isn’t too late, he is going to pay, one hopes with a vicious wound to his over-developed ego.

Trump’s primary defense as argued by his tools in Congress and through his own tweets seems to be “I know I am but what are you?” He isn’t denying his misdeeds and abuses of power, just arguing that he can do whatever he wants because he’s president and that every other politician does the same thing so what’s the problem? It’s not really much of a defense, but in the puerile world that is US politics and especially Trumpist politics, he could get away with it. Any explanation that Trump demanded what he did from Zelensky is because he is a businessman only serves to verify my understanding of Trump’s businesses—that they are essentially criminal enterprises depending on lies, intimidation, and fraud. Representative Stewart almost told the truth about how corruption pervades governments round the world. That is, until he focused his questions solely on Biden, ignoring the corruption that pervades the Trump administration, as evidenced by numerous Trump officials convictions.

The morning begins. Mr. Schiff begins the process by ignoring the US-sponsored coup that put the government populated with fascists into power in Kiev and jumping into the war between Moscow and Kiev. Naturally he portrays the Ukrainian motives as heroic and the Russian forces as imperialist. He may be right about the latter anyhow. Anyone hoping for something other than a US imperial framing of the situation in Ukraine should look elsewhere. This is the US Congress we’re watching here. Once that stage is set, Schiff jumps into the meat of the issue. Succinctly, Trump used his official power as president in an attempt to extort political benefits from the Ukrainian president in exchange for foreign aid. The point of the hearings is to prove that Trump initiated the process and then tried to cover up what he knew to be a potentially impeachable act. This has meant a refusal to allow his minions to testify, labeling those who do so as traitors and attacking bureaucrats in public and private. “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” Will they answer this without rancor or politicking? Unlikely, given the nature of the GOP congresspeople on the committee. Nunes jumped in with the FOXNews interpretation of the Mueller report, pretending that the facts are just more rumors. This is what FOXNews is. A series of lies presented as facts and facts presented as lies. This is the United States in 2019. It’s a poorly scripted crime show and Nunes plays the part well; almost as well as he plays the role of Donald Trump’s handmaid, cleaning up his mess and covering up his mistakes, denying his faults and ignoring his boorishness. Ultimately, his statement pretends that the president can do whatever he wants because he is president. Before he stops talking he also lies that the Obama presidency did nothing but send the Kiev government blankets when in fact they assisted in violently installing the government.

The GOP knows that they have nothing but questionable procedural issues and lies (for example, that Schiff knows the whistleblower which he claims he doesn’t) to divert the process. It’s fun to watch them squirm. One thing that becomes clear is that Nunes really is arrogant and unoriginal. The most laughable part of his pronunciations is that he thinks the charges he makes are equivalent to the extortion Trump is being investigated for. The question is not whether or not there is corruption in Ukraine (there is), but whether or not Trump tried to use his presidential power and US aid money to force Zelensky to help him get re-elected by joining the campaign’s investigation of Biden. Equally laughable is the attempt by the lawyer for the GOP (was he a wrestler on Jim Jordan’s team?) to pretend his purely political challenges are something else. His aggressive and nervous style remind me of a ferret outside their cage. The constant references to the 2016 election cycle are not absolution of Trump’s abuses, but merely confirmation of the corruption in the US electoral system. Jordan’s questions are not questions but talking points that sound like they were contrived in Sean Hannity’s living room. His inability to understand parts of Sondland’s depositions proves his own ignorance. Anyone who has paid attention knows that Jordan was brought on to this committee just a week or two ago certainly not because of his intelligence but because of his obnoxious personality and his attempts to intimidate those testifying. As I listen to the questions of the GOP representatives, I am astounded at their refusal to listen or their inability to think critically. I’m not sure which of these “informs” their questioning, but it says something about this nation. I can put up with Nunes’ arrogance, the Republican from Texas and his folksiness, and even the GOP counsel’s arrogance. However, the only reaction I have when I watch Jordan is a desire to slam a door in his face as if he were a Mormon missionary. Or maybe just a body slam on a nearby wrestling mat. Taking down the female representative from upstate New York in the process, who hails from a district populated by prisons and incredibly right wing despite its relatively poor population. Once again, this representative talks about Obama, not the issues at hand.

The first witness, a diplomat in a bowtie named George Kent who could be a character in a Graham Greene novel, begins, establishing his credentials in the service of the Empire and telling the committee that the Ukrainian government is the equivalent of the Colonial Army under George Washington. He even compares the US role in Kiev to the role of the Prussian Von Steuben in that war against the British. These are the myths US liberals and neocons adhere to in their pursuit of markets and the expansion of the US Empire. They are myths that ignore the fact of the attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments in Latin America, the numerous wars against nations that oppose the US, and its support of reactionaries around the world. Giuliani seems to be a key individual in the Trump attempts to force Ukrainian involvement in the investigation of Biden. Somebody talks about Rudy ginning-up the demand for Ukrainian assistance in the investigation of Biden. Ambassador Bill Taylor, a man who seems a contrast to Kent, ramps up the imperial rhetoric, placing Ukraine in the middle of the on again off again tussle between Moscow and Washington. The Russians remain the bogeyman, no matter what happens. This is what inter-imperial rivalry looks like in the Congressional committee room. The questioning by the attorney Goldman provides one interesting point beyond the substance of the questions: text messages are the Trump impeachment equivalent of Richard Nixon’s tape recorders. Naturally, one wonders if there’s the equivalent of a missing eighteen-and-a-half minute gap—minutes removed at Nixon’s request. When the Supreme Court told Nixon he had to turn those missing minutes over, it spelled his end. The question today is whether or not today’s Supreme Court would demand similar compliance if there were emails and text messages similarly removed from the evidence provided to the investigating committee. Of course, this is just the beginning. The Judiciary Committee takes the floor after the Intelligence Committee is through. That is where the focus shifts to drawing up the charges themselves. That’s where obstruction of justice questions will certainly become part of the inquiry.

Those called to testify and those doing the questioning are all somewhat culpable in the crime known as the United States, yet this exercise could be a step in the nation’s eventual reconstruction. Or in its ongoing disintegration into a fascist dystopia. The hearings reveal the nature of establishment thought. They also reveal the intentional nature of the chaos created by the trumpists—a chaos designed to allow the nation’s most reactionary elements in politics and business to install their permanent rule.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: