Most lawyers will attest that one of the lasting benefits of a legal education is the ability to remove emotions or “feelings” from arguments about points of law.
Accordingly, when the question is posed whether President Donald Trump should be impeached amid revelations that in a phone call this past July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that he sought the assistance of the Ukrainian government to investigate alleged (and totally unsubstantiated) corruption by Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden, the simple and emotionless choice is “yes,” he should.
First, while the phone call was bad despite Trump’s assertions this past week that it was “absolutely perfect,” the acts leading up to the call–and immediately after–are where Trump’s legal jeopardy attaches.
To fully grasp the gravity of this scandal, it is crucial to remember that when the former Soviet Union broke into multiple independent nations in 1991, that Ukraine–formerly of the Soviet Union–was home to thousands of nuclear warheads that the new Russian Federation coveted.
After three years of negotiating and posturing, in 1994, the United States promised financial aid to dismantle Ukraine’s nuclear capacity through the “Nunn-Lugar” program, one named for then Senators Sam Nunn of Georgia and Richard Lugar of Indiana. The U.S. that year also entered into the “Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances,” an agreement with Great Britain, Ireland and Russia aimed at protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Since 2014, Russia has helped breach Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty by assisting separatists engaged in hostilities that exist to this very hour. Now, while much press has been devoted to concerns that President Trump is a sycophant to Russia’s Vladmir Putin, the events of the past six months bring this belief into much clearer focus.
Specifically, Trump’s July 18th decision to freeze $391 million dollars in aid to Ukraine is devastating evidence when considering that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who was dispatched to Ukraine earlier this year to gauge whether the Zelensky administration was willing to acede to his wishes that it investigate the Biden family and the right wing conspiracy theory that missing DNC emails from 2016 may circle back to Ukraine.
The evidence shows that during the now infamous July 25th phone call, Ukrainian President Zelensky, aware that Trump had frozen financial aid the week before, told the American president how crucial U.S. aid was for his nation to successfully prosecute its war with Russian backed separatists in its easternmost region. Right on cue, Trump then cut the Ukrainian President off with the quip that he would “like for you to do us a favor,” with the favor being the aforementioned investigations into the Biden family and the 2016 DNC emails.
While an obdurate Trump swears that his comments were not “quid pro quo,” one does not have to be a Latin scholar to grasp that the “this for that” in this scenario is the $391 million in aid could be unfrozen if Ukraine helped investigate the family of Trump’s likely 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. President Zelensky responded to this point by saying, “…yes it is very important for me and everything that you (Trump) just mentioned earlier.”
Within the law, the phrase “consciousness of guilt” refers to acts done in the aftermath of a crime or tortious act; in this scandal, the presumption of such guilt is great when considering:
1. If the July 25th Trump-Zelensky phone call was “absolutely perfect” as Mr. Trump has repeatedly described, then there would have been no need for his in-house lawyers to debate how to classify the phone call due to grave concerns that the president had just “abuse(d) his office for personal gain;”
2. That Trump staffers went to such great lengths to keep the contents of the July 25th call shielded from normal protocol is evidence that they understood its damaging nature;
3. That Trump informed his former National Securtiy Adviser John Bolton on September 9th that “his services were no longer needed” after Bolton, a strong critic of Russia and Vladmir Putin, urged the president to release the $391 million in aid, is evidence that Trump was bent upon using his office to encourage foreign meddling into a 2020 presidential candidate–and to benefit Putin;
4. This past Friday, Kurt D. Volker, Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine, resigned only days after the released Whistleblower Complaint alleged that he accompanied Rudy Giuliani to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, on July 26th–the day after the Trump-Zelensky call. Volker reportedly was there to help Giuliani explain what Mr. Trump meant. Nota Bene: Ambassador Volker is currently a lobbyist with the BGR Group and a fellow with the McCain Institute, both of which are tied to the Raytheon Company, the manufacturer of the Javelin anti-tank system that stands to earn millions in sales to Ukraine;
5. Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, resigned effective August 15th. Coats had often been at odds with the president on Russia and North Korea, but curiously tendered his resignation on July 28th–three days after the Trump-Zelensky phone call. Coats’s replacement, Acting DNI Joe Maguire, was presented with the whistleblower information the day after Coats left for good on August 15th. This past week, Coats said about the complaint, “Nothing came to me…I left on Aug. 15…The very next day that was presented to Joe. I feel so bad for Joe. He is caught in a squeeze here and the lawyers are divided. So they are trying to work all that out. That’s about all I can say about that;”
6. Acting DNI Joe Maguire, during his testimony before Congress this past week about the Whistleblower Complaint, had the following exchange with US Rep. Adam Schiff:
SCHIFF: You don’t believe the whistleblower is a political hack?MAGUIRE: I believe the whistleblower is operating in good faith and has followed the lawSCHIFF: Do you have any reason to accuse him or her of disloyalty to the country or suggest he is beholden to anything else but the country?MAGUIRE: Absolutely not. I believe the whistleblower followed the steps every way
(Acting DNI Joe Maguire testifying before Congress about the Whistleblower issue)
As such, it is clear that President Trump used his office for personal gain. Now, some question whether an impeachment inquiry will lead to Trump’s removal from office? If I had to hazard a guess at this point, it would be “no.”
Others question whether if removal is unlikely, why even begin the process? Simply stated, the process should begin because it is the right thing to do!
We must remember that the two presidents who were impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were both acquitted by the Senate during their trials. Those acquittals, due more to politics than actual innocence of the levied charges, still did not prevent the House of Representatives from doing its job to determine whether charges were warranted via the impeachment process.
Donald Trump has been one of the more polarizing figures in American presidential history. Whether it has been vituperative remarks about black NFL players that he called “ungrateful sons of bitches,” petty attacks on the families of service members killed abroad, divisive remarks about Muslims, Africans and Haitians hailing from “shit-hole nations” as he described; his dismissive and vile Tweets about women, particularly women of color elected to political office; the exploding federal deficit, his failure to “bring back beautiful, clean coal” and other manufacturing jobs, false claims of spurring greater job growth than that of his predecessor Barack Obama, or the general negative views that many across the globe hold towards him, there are ample reasons to support Trump not being re-elected next year.
But contrary to his playing the victim in interviews, the legal trouble that Trump finds himself regarding Ukraine is due to his own lack of self control–period! No Democrat or Democratic “political hack” caused him to freeze those funds earmarked to Ukraine, or to offer a quid pro quo to secure the release of those funds. That men like Coats, Bolton, and Maguire–staunch Republicans far longer than Trump–either resigned, were fired, or vouch for the credibility of the Whistleblower Complaint, respectively, proves that an impeachment inquiry is not “sour grapes” about the 2016 election. Rather, their acts are crucial cogs in reminding that the rule of law is supposed to be respected by all–including the President of the United States.
Lest we forget…