Ukrainean Tete A Tete -Trump’s Watergate?

The road to the 2020 Presidential Elections has got bumpier for President Trump, with Democrats launching formal impeachment proceedings. Will it result in actual impeachment or like in the past, just fade away?

Background

As President Trump enters the final year of his first term, his presidency has been jolted by a bombshell dropped by a CIA whistle-blower. The whistle-blower report has alleged “widespread abuse of power” by the Whitehouse “to advance personal interests”

At the eye of the storm are telephonic conversations during which President Trump is alleged to have pressurised President Zelesky of Ukraine to investigate the Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter as quid pro quo for US military and economic aid. The existence of these conversations was reported by an intelligence operative who has now sought protection under the Whistle-blower Act. 

Serhiy Leshchenko, a former adviser to the Ukrainian President, has stated that it was made clear that future discussions on mutually beneficial issues were contingent on investigations into Joe Biden and his son. It is being reported that there are other whistle-blowers also willing to testify now.  

The Democrats were quick to grasp this golden opportunity and the most powerful Democratic elected member, Nancy Pelosi, who is also the Speaker of the US House of Representatives initiated an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

Analysis

The removal of a sitting President from office is a two-stage political process. If the House of Representatives passes the article of impeachment, the Senate is forced to hold a trial. The motion has to be passed in the Senate by a two-thirds majority.

The Democrats are trying to build up a credible case against Trump by mustering witnesses and evidence. The Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Elijah Cummings, has asked for additional documents from the administration which are reportedly tied to the Ukraine case and has threatened to issue a subpoena if the request is not complied with.

The transcripts taht have so far ben made public by the White House are being interpreted by both sides to suit their respective interests. They make interesting reading if nothing else than to get an insight into the cavalier manner in which state business is conducted at the highest levels.  

In the telephonic conversation, Zelensky says, “ I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defence.......we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the US for defence.”   Trump’s reply is, “I would like you to do us a favour though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  Further on in the conversation, Trump comes closer to the issue of Biden investigations done earlier in Ukraine, saying “I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down, and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved”. The prosecutor being mentioned is Shokin, a Ukrainian public prosecutor who was removed from the Bursima investigations.

It may be recalled that Bursima Holdings is a Ukrainian Gas Company which has been under investigation since 2012. In 2014, then US Vice President, Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined its board of directors. The investigations were being done under Shokin. There was intense pressure from White House under Obama to remove Shokin, allegedly on grounds of corruption. During his visit to Ukraine in 2015, Vice President Biden threatened to get a $1billion loan cancelled unless Shokin was removed. Three months later Shokin was relieved as the public prosecutor.

Assessment

  • Trump has the numbers in his favour. An impeachment motion requires 2/3 majority in the Senate. The Republicans have a majority there and numerically alone the vote is unlikely to pass, even if it does manage to clear the first stage in the House of Representatives. 
  • Prima facie, the following facts emerge from the study of transcripts-Trump asked for a favour but quid pro quo is not explicit but implied. Legal interpretation can go either way. However, if one links this conversation with the blockage of a $250 million military aid package approved by Congress but held in abeyance by the White House without any stated justification, the picture becomes murkier.
  • In his defence, Trump states that many issues are discussed between Heads of State, which directly or indirectly impact on state matters and cannot be quoted out of context as a breach of trust or misuse of office. He has now gone on the offensive, openly asking not only Ukraine but also China to open investigations against Joe Biden.
  • This is not the first inquiry against Trump launched by the Democrats after they gained control of the House in 2018. In January, investigations were initiated leading to the Mueller Report which documents the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election. The report looks at allegations of conspiracy or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia, and allegations of obstruction of justice. Nothing substantial came out of Mueller Report which was not able to conclusively conclude Trump's culpability and left it to the House to take a call

Image Courtesy: flickr.com

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