Notes on Week 1 of the Trump impeachment hearings.

First, I would like to consider several points that have to do with the Trump presidency in general, and are apparent in the impeachment inquiry.

  1. Trump and company love to rail against the “deep state”. What they call “deep state” is made up of non-partisan career civil servants. They have, as one of their main functions, the task and duty to examine and ascertain facts, then to make those facts available to government. Decisions are made, policies elaborated, based on those facts. Decimating the ranks of civil servants (usually in the name of saving taxpayer dollars) and replacing career officials with partisans allows Trump et co. to exercise more control over what facts are made public, to float “alternate facts” and to create narratives that suit their political ends. You may remember that soon after the Trump inauguration, and several times since, information on global warming was “disappeared” from the EPA website.
  2. Trump, like Louis XIV, thinks he is the State. At the beginning of his presidency he had a couple of very telling slips of the tongue to that effect. He has therefore been trying to concentrate power in the executive branch to the detriment of the legislative, the other branch elected by the people. He is also trying to neutralize the checking power of the judiciary branch by packing the courts with partisan judges, some of who are not or barely qualified. Since, in his mind, he is America, he thinks that Ukraine owes him personally for the aid approved by Congress. He looks at Ukraine and countries in need of aid as a feudal lord looks at vassals.
  3. At one point in his closed-door deposition, Ambassador to the EU Sondland described Trump as a businessman signing a check and wanting to make sure the check is good. Part of the problem with the Trump presidency is that business models, even good ones, do not translate to good government. Business looks for profit, government for the public good. In this case, for Trump, the search for short-term personal gain in the form of an investigation into the Bidens and into a discredited conspiracy theory took priority over long-term national interest. This pattern runs through the whole period of the Trump presidency, and is replicated at lower levels. Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman put in and got a bid for an energy company to be set up in the Ukraine to benefit themselves.

Why does this seem so complicated? The lack of clarity, in my view, is purely artificial, and results in part from a chaotic White House. The “back channels” use people with government credentials, like Sondland and Volker, even Perry, a latecomer to the whole affair. Trump is impulsive, undisciplined, and changes strategy without communicating with Republican Representatives, who then scramble to adapt their defenses of his behavior. Divisions keep coming to light in his administration. Bolton is out after clashing with Mulvaney. Mulvaney may have occasionally acted without Trump’s knowledge.

Republican Representatives use Trump’s diversionary tactics and keep muddying the waters to distract the public from the cumulative effect of the Mueller report and the current impeachment inquiry. Mueller was unable to definitively prove collusion with Russia, but cited a pattern of obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice figures in the impeachment hearings as well, as Trump invokes executive privilege and directs witnesses to refuse to appear.

The Republican Party has painted the Democrats as obsessed with impeaching and removing Trump, thereby negating the will of the people who elected him. It is therefore important to make a clear case that Trump’s behavior is a danger to the Republic. Why is the Ukraine shakedown so very important that we must resort to impeachment? And is this just a case of irrational hatred of Trump?

Trump’s behavior has weakened the United States in several respects. First of all, he very obviously put pressure on President Zelinskiy to publicly declare that Ukraine is investigating a political rival. By doing so, he invited a foreign country to meddle in our elections, which is a crime in itself.

Second, Trump also demanded an investigation into the CrowdStrike server, which he believes is in Ukraine. That particular conspiracy theory states that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Hillary, Russia is pure as the driven snow. That theory, by absolving Russia of any intervention in favor of Trump, legitimizes his electoral victory and undermines the intelligence community – all 17 agencies in the intelligence community concluded that Russia was the culprit. The narrative deflecting from Russian meddling and implicating Ukraine seems to have originated from Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian contact of Manafort said to be in Putin’s employ.

Third, the accusations against Ukraine weaken that country and its new president by reminding other actors that the country was one of the most corrupt in the world. The withholding of critical aid in the face of Russian invasion emboldens Putin to continue his aggression in Eastern Ukraine and to threaten former Soviet Republics. US allies in the Baltic Republics see Trump’s capitulation to Putin as a sign of weakness and our standing on the international stage suffers as a result. Those US partners were also taking the measure of Trump when he abandoned the Kurds at the border between Turkey and Syria, and gave Russia another region to grow its influence. As Nancy Pelosi succinctly put it, with Trump all roads lead to Putin.

Ultimately, the big picture will be more important than the details, although those are now capital in the Democrats’ case against Trump. I believe that a timeline is important to keep in mind, if only to rebut some arguments put forward by Republican Representatives. So, here goes. In April, Trump calls Zelinskiy to congratulate him. Nothing weird in that call, which Devin Nunes saw fit to read in its inane entirety. US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch starts hearing rumors that she will be replaced, and is told to take the first flight out because of concerns for her security. She leaves the country on the day Zelinskiy ascends to the presidency, May 20. On July 25, Trump calls Zelinskiy and infamously says: “I would like you to do us a favor, though” then names investigations into the Bidens and Crowdstrike. One of the people listening on the call is Lt. Col. Vindman, who sees deletions in the transcript and alerts his superior. No changes are made at his request, and the transcript is moved to a super-secure computer, an unusual move. Trump issues to the public what he calls a complete transcript of his “perfect call”, where the “favor, though” demand appears. Those words fuel the calls for an impeachment inquiry, which Democratic House leadership had been loath to start.

On July 26, one day after the Trump-Zelinskiy call, Trump takes a call from Sondland, who is in a Kyiv restaurant on a non-secure cell phone. Trump is so loud that embassy staff clearly hear him asking Sondland if Zelinskiy will do the investigations as asked. Sondland states to staff, David Holmes, that Trump does not care about the Ukraine, only about “big stuff” that impacts him, in this case the investigations into his political rivals.

In the meantime, a whistleblower has alerted the Inspector General for the Intelligence Agencies that people have voiced to him concerns that illegal activities are taking place. The military aid that Trump had made conditional to the investigations into the Bidens and CrowdStrike is freed to Ukraine only after the whistleblower complaint is made public. Trump and the Republican House members on the various committees involved in the impeachment inquiry vociferously demand to know the identity of the whistleblower – which is in contravention of the whistleblower protection act. They claim he only has second hand knowledge, but since everything in the original complaint has been proved, the identity of the whistleblower is now irrelevant. The argument that the inquiry is based on hearsay, second hand etc… will have to be changed anyway, as Vindman, for one, was present and listening to the July 25 call. Additionally, Holmes was present during the Trump-Sondland call on July 26.

We will have another week of hearings before Congress breaks for Thanksgiving. There will be plenty to discuss around the dinner table. Meanwhile, here are some sound bites that I thought were relevant.

Marie Yovanovitch, on what embassy personnel does:

“ We handle American citizen services, facilitate trade and commerce, work security issues, represent the US and report to and advise Washington, to mention some of our functions. And we make a difference every day.”

Trump, in a tweet on Marie Yovanovitch, WHILE SHE IS TESTIFYING – he had previously threatened her as “having to go through some things”:

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” He had previously referred to her as “bad news” in a conversation with Zelinskiy. This last tweet might create an article of impeachment if it is judged to be witness intimidation.

Eric Swalwell, D-CA, on the Republican argument that, since aid was delivered to Ukraine, the inquiry is not valid:

“You don’t really get points when you get your hand caught in the cookie jar, then someone says: ”Hey, he’s got his hand in the cookie jar, and then you take your hand out.”

Raja Krishnamoorthy, D-IL, asking Marie Yovanovitch:

“ Is it a feature of authoritarianism to allow corrupt interests to hijack foreign policy?”

“ Is it a feature of authoritarianism for the rulers to claim absolute rights?”

“ Is it a hallmark of authoritarianism for rulers to smear their opponents?”

She answered yes on all counts…..

Disclaimer: Marie-Anne wrote this post. She is solely responsible for content. Any mistakes are hers only, and her views do not always reflect those of the Rockwall Democratic Party.

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