Yeah, it’s pretty bad. While following the news about the current whistleblower scandal as it unfolds I can’t help but feel like I am watching the diplomatic breakdown between two different countries. Democrats and Republicans have such stark differences in their political statements on impeachment of the president that they sound like warring ethnic factions akin to the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
Although some Democrats may deem the timing of Nancy Pelosi’s public declaration for an impeachment inquiry as behind schedule, it mostly reads as high-risk, low-reward theatrics. If Democrats do not expose the smoking gun proof of a definitive crime, Republicans will be able to use subtext to muddy the legal basis needed to charge a president for an impeachable offense, especially ones that do not fit within an exact definition of law breaking. If we cannot point to the exact legal code that was broken, we might fall into the same legal tumble as we did with the Mueller report.
The Republican rebuttal to Pelosi endorsing an impeachment probe of President Trump was both measured in its support of the president and emotional in its rebuke of the Democrats willingness to try and bend the law to fit politics, thus fully consequential in setting the stage for the ultimate battle: Election 2020. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave a scathing speech defending President Trump, rejecting the Democrats claim that the Ukraine phone call was akin to an impeachable offense and claiming this was just another political tactic to interlace the president in more controversy before the 2020 election.
If Democrats go forward with an impeachment probe, the 2020 election will no longer be about the public’s choice on public policy. Election 2020 will become a congressional referendum on the Trump presidency that will box in Democratic presidential candidates to be either pro or anti-impeachment. Considering how popular impeachment is with the far-Left branch of the party, it is quite likely that all candidates will endorse impeachment even when the general public is either against it or undecided.
If Nancy Pelosi leads the House into a formal impeachment probe, she will have given away any remaining power that Centrist Democrats (like Joe Biden) have in the party. In this instance, the Democratic Party will have truly adopted the leadership and political platform of the Progressive faction. An impeachment probe might be more of a game changer for Democrats than Republicans. Senate Republicans are the ones who hold the most power in this situation. Their decision on impeachment will more likely be a legal one than a political one, thus if the president’s crime can be legally defined, Republicans will have to make the decision to abide by the law and forego political backing of a Republican president.
So What Is Going On With The Whistleblower Complaint?
As of Thursday (9/26/19), the whistleblower complaint was released to the public. The complaint focuses on President Trump’s July 25 conversation he had with the recently elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and if Trump explicitly asked a political favor of him regarding Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Democrats claim that during this phone call President Trump offered to reinstate military aid to Ukraine if high-ranking officials reopen a corruption probe on Joe Biden’s son. Hunter Biden was a board member of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma, reportedly making $50,000 a month. Trump claims that Ukrainian prosecutors were forced to stop their probe into Burisma due to then Vice President Joe Biden’s threats to cut military funding to Ukraine if they do not drop the corruption case. History shows the case was halted and Burisma was never fully investigated. Democrats say that Biden’s enabling of the firing of Ukraine’s then- Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was due to the Obama Administration persuading Ukraine to dismantle widespread corruption within the prosecutor’s office and throughout the government. President Trump claims that shining light on Joe Biden will expose the public to Biden’s supposedly explicit political motivation to stop the investigation into Burisma. Did Biden use public office for personal gain?
Two Stories, Two Different Types Of Quid Pro Quos?
If Democrats can prove that President Trump asked for a favor of Zelensky that would benefit him politically, they might have a solid political basis to start an impeachment probe. In her public speech, Nancy Pelosi brought up an important fact that might prove to be a more solid foundation for voting on Articles of Impeachment. She indicated the illegal nature of the Trump Administration withholding the release of the whistleblower’s formal complaint to Congress. By law, these types of formal letters are supposed to go to Congress. Instead, it went to Trump’s Justice Department. Answering the question as to why the Justice Department was the preliminary holder of the whistleblower document will open up recourse for further legal examination of President Trump’s actions and intentions.
So what is this whistleblower document?
So far the details are still a bit murky. It appears that the whistleblower is a former CIA intelligence operative that was assigned to the White House and was not a direct witness to the phone call. He or she transcribes Trump’s phone call by acknowledging they have received information from multiple government officials and is concerned about the national security risk the president might pose to the country if it is proven that Trump is willing to trade favors with foreign actors in order to destroy a domestic political opponent.
In the call, the whistleblower documents that Trump asked Zelensky to find a server that might be able to prove that it was the Democrats that hacked and leaked their own emails in 2016 and not the Russians. So, is President Trump implying that this the server that is housing Hillary Clinton’s lost emails? This would be an incredible charge especially in light of the fact that Russia politically manipulated the kind of information American voters were using to stay informed about Election 2016.
As of the moment we do not know the name of the whistleblower, which leaves us with a few questions.
- Why was this person chosen to be the one who was told details of the Trump phone call by other government officials who had access to the call?
- Does the whistleblower have a legal right to obtain knowledge of a presidential phone call?
- What role did the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have in crafting the language of the document?
- Was there any prominent staff that helped outline the legal language used to alert appropriate officials to a potential violation of the Constitution?
- Why did Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire hand the whistleblower document to the Justice Department when Attorney General Bill Barr’s name was cited in the letter?
- Is a presidential phone call an intelligence matter? And if so, did the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, whom is the person responsible for overseeing all whistleblower complaints, know about Intelligence Director Maguire’s intention to improperly hand over the letter to the Justice Department rather than Congress?
General Atkinson’s letter to Intelligence Director Maguire states that the president’s apparent conduct in the transcribed phone call is a credible enough threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.
What has further come to light is that Intelligence Director Maguire took the letter to the White House and the Justice Department and that it was the Justice Department who told Maguire that he did not have to take it immediately to Congress. The Justice Department has stated that there is no evidence of a violation of campaign finance law and that you can’t prove opposition research from a foreign power is a thing of value under the law. If Democrats can prove that the president’s asking to re-open a corruption probe by the Ukrainian president is defined as a ‘thing of value’ under campaign finance law, they will have a solid charge against President Trump.
It is not clear if using campaign finance law is the appropriate tool to clear President Trump’s conduct in asking Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. What Democrats also want to know is if President Trump violated laws regulating foreign interference in American elections.
Yes, this sounds like a repeat of the investigative findings of the Mueller report, but what will differ in this case is if the House of Representatives can cite the specific law or set of codes that the president violated they may have a solid chance at proving an impeachable crime was committed. The Mueller report did not prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, thus there was no specific law that was broken. So if the House can uniformly define the crime and cite how the Constitution was violated, passing Articles of Impeachment will have a more valid reasoning.
It is the trial in the Senate that will be the ultimate legal and political battlefield that will determine if President Trump’s asking of a favor from Ukraine’s Zelensky was a violation of his oath of office. In order for the president to be impeached and removed from office, the Constitution requires a two-thirds super majority from the Senate. If the House of Representatives passes Articles of Impeachment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be accountable for how many Republicans decline to charge President Trump with the impeachable offenses of treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.
Since the Democratic controlled House of Representatives does not need a super majority in order to impeach the president, it will be reasonable to suspect they might move forward with the act of impeachment. But this is not the sole mechanism to legally remove Trump from office. It is the Senate that has the power to remove President Trump from office. For now it seems as though about thirty Republican Senators would be needed to vote against President Trump. In order for Republicans to vote against their president, Democrats will have to prove President Trump’s asking of a favor was a big enough threat to the national security of the United States.
With all that said, this new round of impeachment inquiry will beget a never ending circular pattern of existential crises that will not only deepen the divide between the two political camps, but buttress a war on what it means to be a patriot. Is this whistleblower a patriot or a deep state spy? How a person answers this question will be a testament to what kind of American they want to be. And what a terrible question it is to ask.
Where do we go from here?
Political favors, quid pro quos, and strong-arming are all common forms of negotiations in state-to-state affairs. President Trump’s transparency in releasing documentation about the July 25 phone call to President Zelensky can both help and hurt him. He gives himself space to show the public that he has nothing to hide and wants the public to believe he is correct to press the Ukrainian president to be worried about Joe Biden’s ability to fire the prosecutor leading the investigation into his son’s business holdings with unsavory figures in Ukraine.
In light of the fact that polls on the public’s approval of impeachment proceedings are too soon and results too varied, it is difficult to say whether a majority of Americans are willing to give away their voice in the 2020 Presidential Election, where they would be cheerfully watching Congress adjudicate the president’s fate. If Republicans can blur the legal validity of the president’s stated crime, Democrats may face a harsh backlash from the public for politically dramatizing common play tactics in high-level politics. It is true that President Trump had his administration withhold military aid before he made that phone call, but by releasing the somewhat redacted transcript of the phone call, what he seems to want to shed light on is the supposed duplicity of his enemies. He wants the pubic to turn an eye to Joe Biden, and with that towards all Democrats.
It is somewhat possible that President Trump’s goal is to have people question the deeds of Joe Biden, especially in light of the fact that Biden also proposed withholding military aid from Ukraine as it was in the midst of a battle with Russian forces after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. As was said before, the supposed reason for Biden’s strong-arming of Ukraine was to get the country’s top prosecutor fired, the very one investigating his son. So did Biden do this because he wanted to purge Ukraine of corrupt actors or because he wanted to shield his son?
If President Trump gets his way, in a few weeks this question might become the topic of an investigating committee by Trump allies in the government. If somehow it is Biden that takes the fall with this scandal, so goes Nancy Pelosi. Once the last remaining Democratic moderates lose all control of the party, the Progressive faction will reap the Democrat Party throne. Does this work in President Trump’s favor? Does he think placing the Progressive faction at the helm of the party will be a turn off for Middle America?
It seems the 2020 Election is being played in a new way.