FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Congress’s first round of impeachment hearings wound up largely focused on whether President Trump had offered a quid pro quo for receiving a favor from Ukraine, i.e. Trump would release held up military aid and other signs of US support only after Ukraine investigated a particular company that employed Joe Biden’s son, and the former Vice President for his actions as well.

Aside from trying to determine if an actual bribe had occurred, the basis for impeachment comes down to whether Trump abused his presidential power by asking a Ukraine for a personal gift of campaign assistance or was he merely seeking out whether there was corruption in Ukraine before releasing military assistance to them.

America’s founders feared foreign governments destabilizing our young democracy. They wrote into the constitution, “And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present… from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

The House of Representatives is trying to determine whether Trump was seeking a “present” from Ukraine. Specifically, the charge is that Trump was asking the Ukraine’s new president, to publicly announce that his country would begin investigating a company for corruption that employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. This would provide Trump an explosive issue that would damage his potential main opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Just this May 2019, Trump’s own polling showed Biden beating Trump in the election. That was followed up in September, when Trump’s reelection campaign, and the Republican National Committee, announced plans to spend $10 million on an ad targeting his potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden and the impeachment proceedings.

In October, Trump targeted $1 million, out of an already-existing $8 million ad buy toward anti-Biden spots in early voting states through a 30-second commercial, titled “Biden Corruption” attacking him for pushing the removal of Ukraine’s former corrupt head prosecutor Shokin.

Trump would have greatly benefited if he could have convinced Ukraine’s president to announce that he was investigating corruption in Burisma and by extension Hunter Biden, who served on its board. Joe Biden could also be investigated since he was Vice President during that time.

No verdict would even be needed, just the investigation could be enough. And that was the message that was sent by his personal attorney Rudi Giuliani, not a government employee, to the Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

Testifying under oath before the Congress’s impeachment hearing, Sondland clearly identified Giuliani as Trump’s spokesman saying, “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States …”

Sondland’s description of Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine as being motivated by personal interest and not national interest, was also the conclusion reached by the state department’s top Ukraine official, George P. Kent. He testified before Congress how Trump sought to manipulate American policy in Ukraine to meet his personal political goals, circumventing career diplomats and policy experts and inserting his personal lawyer Giuliani into the process.

President Trump, himself, was recorded on the July 25th  call to the new Ukrainian President Zelensky asking him for a favor of looking into “Biden’s son … and …that Biden stopped the prosecution…”  of Shokin. Investigating Hunter Biden or Joe Biden was never mentioned in any documents provided to the public prior to that call, from any government intelligence agency.

Trump’s request was made immediately after Zelensky said his country was “ready to buy more Javelins [anti-tank missiles] from the United States for defense purposes.” Trump made the connection between providing military aid to Ukraine that Congress had already approved and asking Ukraine to conduct an investigation that no one had requested from the US government. That call lead to the whistle blower to file a complaint that Trump had used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election.” How else could it be interpreted?

Well, Trump, and Congressional Republicans, simply describe it as encouraging Ukraine to conduct those investigations to see if the Bidens had participated in Ukraine’s well known culture of corruption. Republicans say Trump’s motive was to protect our foreign aid from contributing to a corrupt nation what could waste US tax dollars.

Curiously, Trump and  Congressional Republicans’ argument ignores that Zelensky’s top prosecutor, Lutsenko had told Bloomberg News in a report May 16 that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.

No one, to date, has testified that Trump directed any federal employee, (excluding Giuliani, since he is not a government employee) to investigate either of the Bidens. However, Trump in public statements and via twitter has repeatedly suggested that they need to be investigated.

By going public with these suggestions, he avoided a paper trail and he can legitimately claim to not have ordered government employees to investigate them. Nevertheless, if you work for the executive department and you repeatedly see and hear what Trump wants through the media or through his personal attorney Giuliani, it is likely that you would act accordingly.

Both Joe Biden and Trump wanted to end corruption in Ukraine. Biden wanted to change prosecutors in order to pursue a more vigorous attack on corruption, as reflected in Zelensky’s overwhelming electoral victory. Trump wanted an investigation of Burisma for possible corruption, since it had been accused of corruption in the past. However, three previous general prosecutors investigated Burisma and did not file any charges. Trump wanted Ukraine’s government to go back and look for some corruption. He also questioned the legitimacy of Hunter Biden being on its board, although no past Ukrainian prosecutor had found a reason to investigate him, including the two most recent reformist prosecutors.

Trump did not need to get a conviction of either the Burisma or the Bidens. He just needed a public statement that an investigation had begun. Trump, through Giuliani, rejected the offer that Ukrainian’s general prosecutor make such a statement. Instead, Ambassador Sondland said they were told by Giuliani that Trump wanted Ukraine’s President to make that public statement.

That would be the favor Trump wanted. Something to use in an anti-Biden media campaign. That is a request to have a foreign government sway our electoral process to benefit a particular candidate.

So, which narrative is to be believed? Hunter got a cushy job, Joe Biden got to be an anti-corruption champion. Neither benefited from US aid to Ukraine.

No government official in Ukraine or the US has connected them to corruption in Ukraine. However, Trump’s role as a fighter of corruption, has focused solely on just the one company, Burisma, which employed Hunter Biden. Neither Trump nor Giuliani ever pursued investigating any other corrupt company in Ukraine.

Trump unambiguously asked Ukraine, both through public statements and through his personal attorney directing government employees, for an investigation that would have been helped him win the presidential election. Republicans in congress defend Trump by arguing that no Ukrainian investigation was begun on the Bidens, so Trump did not receive any benefit, i.e.no harm was done. However, they have not shown any effort by Trump to stop corruption other than seeking to investigate the one company that employed his main opponent’s son.

The president of the United States repeatedly asking Ukraine to investigate a single company, that had already been investigated by the highest prosecutors in Ukraine, was needlessly redundant and served only to benefit his personal political interests.  None of the three ambassadors familiar with Trump’s insistence on an investigation, told congress during their testimonies that it was critical to our national interests.

But will the public understand, and more importantly be concerned, that Trump’s “request” for a favor from Ukraine was an abuse of his presidential power by contorting a national policy of fighting corruption overseas in a way to serve his own political interests. If so, is it grounds for relieving him of his position as the leader of our nation?

Although, only the House of Representatives can decide, it is important for citizens to have one-on-one thoughtful discussions on this impeachment question. Discuss this issue with friends and foe. And, share this piece with your local congressional representative as well.

More articles by:
July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail