For almost two weeks, American news has been filled with stories about the possibility and soon enough reality of an impeachment inquiry in the country’s House of Representatives. The inquiry comes as a result of a whistleblower complaint filed by a still anonymous source now believed to have come forward in relation to a July 25th phone call that had taken place between the current occupant of the White House and the then newly elected president of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. This could mean problems for the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well, as the Wall Street Journal, hardly an unfriendly outlet to the current administration, reported he was listening in on the call.
The part of the call that has been the focus of most of the media attention since President Trump himself unclassified and released a transcript of it on September 24th was when he brought up the front-runner in the ongoing Democratic primaries, Joe Biden. The former vice-president had bragged last year that while in the Obama administration he’d told the previous Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, that the United States would withhold a $1 billion aid package until a prosecutor in Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, who was accused by U.S. officials of not being tough enough on corruption in the country, was removed from office.
After engaging the Ukrainian president with his usual hyperbole, talking at length about how the United States is the Ukraine’s greatest friend in the world, the current U.S. president turned to the subject of Shokin and his possible opponent in the upcoming presidential election, “…I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair… There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
According to the transcript, Zelensky then replied, “I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company (Burisma holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company where the former vice-president’s son, Hunter Biden, was a board member from April 2014 until the same month in 2019) that you mentioned in this issue.”
In separate reports, it’s also been alleged that President Trump had withheld $400 million in military aid to the country before his conversation with Zelensky, which sounds suspiciously similar to what Biden had bragged about doing while working as the Obama administration’s point man on the Ukraine during a pivotal period for the country just after then President Victor Yanukovich fled it following mass protests in February, 2014.
In the call, the president also demanded that Zelensky meet with both his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his attorney general, William Barr. While the former, who was subpoenaed for documents related to his dealings with the Ukraine on September 30th, outdoes his boss in terms of the strangeness of his television appearances and has been accused of running an ‘off the books’ foreign policy directed by his boss with at least two other lawyers, Barr is much more important to the Trump administration. This was made obvious when the Mueller report into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election was finally released on April 18th and the attorney general was able to get in front of it using a press conference to downplay the multiple cases of possible obstruction of justice contained in the report before a redacted version was released to the public.
It’s obviously unethical and probably illegal for the current president to ask the leader of a foreign government to investigate a potential opponent in a domestic election (and it now appears he has done so numerous times), but, despite the fact that mainstream news sources from CNN to the Washington Post dismiss the idea, the position held by Biden’s son, who is not an expert on either the natural gas industry or the Ukraine, and which paid more than the vast majority of his fellow citizens make in a year for every month he was on the company’s board, reeks of the usually unacknowledged and all too common nepotism we see among the political classes of the United States and most of its allies. That Hunter Biden was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 2013 for cocaine use makes the smell that much more pungent.
Having said this, the U.S. president might want to take a look at the qualifications of some of his closest advisors, namely his daughter and son in law, whose businesses seem to have also benefited from their closeness to the president, before accusing anyone else of giving unfair advantages to family members.
All of this finally led the most powerful Democrat in the country, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to announce that she would finally begin impeachment proceedings in the House, something progressives in the party had been calling for since the current U.S. president’s inauguration but which the speaker and many centrist Democrats have opposed until now.
The main problem some on the left are having is that Pelosi and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Adam Schiff, are saying that the inquiry will be entirely focused on the U.S. president’s dealings with Ukraine, meaning it will ignore many of the possibly impeachable things that this chief executive has done while in office (and possible criminal activity prior to to his presidency). While the stated deadline of Thanksgiving for an end to the House’s investigations will save Democrats from the kind of endless and finally pretty pointless investigation we saw with the Mueller inquiry by only looking at this incident, House Democratic leadership ls leaving many potentially damaging things off the table.
While the focus until recently was on allegations of collusion between the president’s campaign and the Russian government, the role being played by Saudi Arabia in enriching the president, who has not divested from his businesses like past presidents while in office, has for the most part been ignored. In his Washington, D.C. hotel alone, a Saudi affiliated lobbying group, Qorvis/MSLGroup, reserved and paid for 500 rooms shortly after the current president was elected.
One wonders if one of the many lawyers in the House could establish a quid pro quo on the basis of this with the president’s veto of a bill to end the support of the Saudi led genocide in Yemen or inaction in regards to Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist cut to pieces by Saudi agents in their Turkish embassy almost exactly a year ago today?
While the House leadership has insisted that a single-minded focus on Ukraine will be uncomplicated enough that it will move some independents and even Trump supporters, it could wind up doing as much damage to centrist Democrats’ favorite Joe Biden as it does to the president, who, his many failings aside, does have a talent for throwing dirt. Further, using the inquiry to look into violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which “prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives” by Saudi Arabia and others seems more likely to show the man’s deep corruption and willingness to profit from his position than his attempt to strong-arm the president of Ukraine for purely political reasons.
On top of this alleged corruption involving the Saudi despotism, it was only recently revealed that the U.S. Airforce has used a Scottish golf resort owned by the president at least 40 times for layovers for service members since he took office. Besides the cost to taxpayers, as reported by the web-site Crooks and Liars, at least one of those forced to stay at the resort has claimed that their per diems were not enough to afford to eat their meals there.
While it probably won’t result in the current president being removed from office due to the math in the Senate, removal isn’t the only reason for an impeachment inquiry in the House at this time. The first is purely political: it will likely result in a news cycle dominated by talk of the president’s allegedly criminal behavior, which could be a plus on the road to 2020. The other is less quantifiable, with members of the House salvaging their place in their country’s history by finally standing up to a president who has become a national embarrassment.
Regardless, if it is left to weak-kneed centrist Democrats to lead the inquiry rather than those like Representative Rashida Tlaib and the legendary Maxine Waters who were the first to really call for it, the result might be another wasted opportunity among so many avoided by the president’s fearful opposition since he took office.