The truth is out there
Last week a whistleblower alleged that Donald Trump threatened to withhold U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless that nation cooperated to smear Joe Biden.
This is a serious accusation. It deserves careful scrutiny.
Russia invaded and stole the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and then invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine. There has been bipartisan agreement that it is in America’s national interest to help Ukraine defend itself.
The U.S. Congress appropriated some $390 million in military aid for Ukraine in the fiscal 2018-19 budget. On Feb. 28 of this year, the administration told Congress it was releasing the aid.
But Trump held up delivery of the bulk of the resources, and has not sufficiently answered Congressional inquiries as to why. The funds were not released until Sept. 11, two days after members of Congress returned from their summer recess, many of them preparing to investigate the delay.
In a July phone call with Trump, with the aid funds frozen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky requested Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States for purposes of defense against Russia’s invasion.
According to Trump’s own transcript of the conversation, Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” and proceeded to ask Zelensky to work with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to investigate whether the Bidens were involved in Ukrainian corruption.
Trump and his supporters are saying that was not a demand for a quid pro quo, that Trump was not suggesting, “You help us investigate the Bidens, and you’ll get your Javelins.”
Maybe they’re right — but that’s what needs to be discovered.
To Democrats, and to a few courageous Republicans, it looks like a shakedown.
The conversation put Zelensky in an impossible situation. If he did not cooperate with Trump, he risked denying his country the defensive missiles and other military supplies it desperately needs. If he did cooperate, and Trump were to be impeached or lose the 2020 election, he risked getting crosswise with ascendant U.S. Democrats, maybe even with President-elect Biden.
House Speaker and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had resisted referring to the House’s Democratic-led investigations into Trump’s earlier conduct as an “impeachment inquiry.” She was understandably skittish about using that term, knowing full well how the Republicans’ impeachment of President Bill Clinton turned out 21 years earlier, in 1998-99.
In the 1998 November election, during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Republicans maintained control of the House, but the Democrats gained five seats in that body. It was the first time since 1822 that the party that controlled the White House gained House seats in the sixth year of a two-term president.
Up until last week, Pelosi had insisted on a go-slow investigation of Trump’s supposed misdeeds, despite calls for impeachment from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She thought such a step would backfire without for-sure evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” to quote the Constitution, and the two-year Mueller investigation had not produced what she felt was necessary.
But the Ukrainian situation is both more obvious and simpler to understand.
And as the number of Pelosi’s House members demanding an impeachment inquiry reached the magic majority number of 218, she felt forced to agree.
The House, under the direction of intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff, is now engaged in a formal impeachment inquiry.
A compelling reason for Pelosi’s earlier reluctance is the Republican control of the Senate. It takes a two-thirds Senate majority to convict an impeached federal official. Under the current Senate makeup, it would take 20 Republicans to vote to convict Trump, even if all the Senate Democrats did so.
The nation’s two previous presidential impeachments — of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — failed when they reached the Senate, despite the fact that the then-presidents’ political opponents controlled that body each time.
A key difference between the two previous impeachments and a potential impeachment of Donald Trump is that neither Andrew Johnson nor Bill Clinton was on the ballot for the next presidential election.
The Democratic Party did not nominate Johnson for the 1868 election, and Clinton had timed out as a two-term president by 2000.
Not so with Trump. The House appears ready to impeach him following the inquiry; it takes only a simple majority in the House to do so.
But Senate Republicans seem to be solidly behind Trump, and if he remains in office, he will be out on the stump campaigning for his supporters in the 2020 election.
How many Republican Senators would be willing to take a chance on voting to convict him?
Richard Nixon resigned before the House could vote for his impeachment, which it was prepared to do in 1974. I’d be fine if Trump did likewise. In 1998, I editorialized for Clinton to do so.
But it appears the nation is about to embark on a wrenching and divisive delve into Trump’s behavior in office.
It’s needed to get at the truth, and every member of the House, and maybe the Senate, will have to decide where the search leads.
It’s a time for statesmanship and courage.