After months of grappling with the issue of whether US President Donald Trump should be impeached, on September 24, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi formally launched an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi had stayed clear of impeachment talks even after earlier this March Special Counsel Robert Mueller released the results of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Mueller’s report concluded that his probe did not find sufficient evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government on election meddling. Furthermore, the report also did not find sufficient evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but it stopped short of exonerating him completely. For Pelosi, the political implications of launching impeachment proceedings without conclusive evidence on either aspect of the Mueller inquiry was a risk not worth taking.
All that changed dramatically this week when President Trump’s phone conversation with the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, came to light. In his July call with Zelensky, Trump specifically asked for his help in investigating Hunter Biden, the son of his possible 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, while alleging wrongdoings by the former vice president himself. Trump repeatedly mentioned that he would like his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr to call the Ukrainian president in order to get to the bottom of some issues.
The issues that the president of United States of America felt compelled to discuss were the business dealings of Biden’s son and the hacking of the Democratic National Congress servers in 2016. The full transcript of the conversation released by the White House shows how uninspiring and pathetically pedestrian Trump can be, even as Zelensky tries to shamelessly humor him and massage his ego.
Blowing the Whistle
The crucial question that legal pundits will be debating is whether there was any explicit quid pro quo in the conversation. A careful reading of the transcript will show Trump asking for favors from Zelensky and vice-versa. Even as someone who is not a trained legal expert, I can see nothing incriminating in the conversation. In fact, the conversation was very much akin to two juveniles gossiping, Trump complaining about German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, with Zelensky echoing those complaints to score a brownie point or two with Trump.
Trump’s veiled suggestions to look into the Bidens’ activities comes dangerously close to soliciting a foreign leader’s help against a political opponent, but there was no direct mention of aid being withheld until the favors he asked for were granted. (Trump did admit to reporters earlier this week that he did in fact withhold aid to Ukraine, but did so because of concerns of US overspending compared to other European nations.) The US president did, however, fail to demonstrate any respect or pride in the nation he leads when he trash-talked Mueller, Yovanovitch and Biden during the conversation.
Following this ill-fated call, in August, a whistleblower complaint was lodged against President Trump. The House Intelligence Committee released the seven-page document, wherein the whistleblower — whose identity has not been revealed, but who some have suggested was an officer in the intelligence services — accuses Trump of using his presidential powers to pressure foreign leaders to meddle in the 2020 elections, posing a risk to US national security.
Most of the information contained in the complaint is not the whistleblower’s first-hand knowledge. Rather, it is conjecture based on various information he gleaned as a non-White House official privy to sensitive information during his interactions with several US government officials. The material contained is definitely damning to Trump’s lawyer Giuliani, but not the president directly. Unlike the transcript of Trump’s telephone call with Zelensky, which is easy to read and make sense of, the whistleblower complaint is involved and needs to be investigated further in order to determine who acted with impropriety. If it is Giuliani, he will likely get thrown under the bus by Trump in much the same way as his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
That Pelosi succumbed to the growing pressure to impeach Trump based on his phone call with Zelensky and the material contained in the whistleblower report looks like a tactical error. Removing Trump from the Oval Office is a long, drawn out process that seems farfetched at this time. Following the initial impeachment inquiry announced by Pelosi, the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Congressman Jerrold Nadler will lead the effort of overseeing the ongoing investigations of the six House committees. At the end, if the committee does decide to pursue impeachment, it will draft the articles of impeachment that will be voted in the House. It requires but a simple majority in the House to impeach him.
If Trump is indeed impeached, he will then be tried in the Senate, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, and the members of the Senate acting as the jury. A two-third majority in the Senate is needed to convict and remove Trump from office — a practical impossibility in the Republican-controlled Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump is an unethical businessman who knows how to navigate the thin line between legality and committing a crime. He would never have won the election in 2016 should good ethics, morality, respect for women, regard for all human beings irrespective of their race, color, ethnicity or country of origin were mandatory requirements to be president of United States. He garnered 62 million votes in 2016 with all his character flaws. It would require a lot more than the appearance of impropriety in a conversation with a foreign political leader advancing his personal agenda to sway the opinion of Trump’s voter base.
It is insufficient to have only Democrats talk about impeachment. It is imperative that the House impeachment be a bi-partisan effort with significant number of Republican Congress members sharing the view that Trump did cross a line in his dealings with the Ukrainian president. For that to happen, incontrovertible proof from thorough investigations of the whistleblower complaint will be needed to make GOP Congress members vote against their party’s president.
Proceeding along partisan lines, even if the House succeeds in impeaching Trump based on the questionable evidence seen in the whistleblower complaint, without Republican voters willing to turn away from this corrupt man in the White House, the Senate is sure to acquit him. Should that happen, Trump will remain on the 2020 ballot, and an angry Republican base will propel him to a win, making him the first ever president to be impeached and go on to win a second term.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.