With new rallying cries from congressional Democrats for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, it’s worth a short exploration of how the facts interrelate and whether the impeachment call is justified.
The recent call for impeachment is based on a phone conversation between Trump and President Zelensky of the Ukraine. The contents of that call have been released publicly in the form of a transcript that can be found here.
That call seemingly ties together diplomacy with what could be alleged as an effort by Trump to encourage Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden of wrongdoing and interfering with an investigation related to business interests of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in the Ukraine. Trump alludes to favorable diplomatic treatment but asks for cooperation in the investigation in return. He specifically asks Zelensky to coordinate and communicate with Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer.
The Ukrainian investigation stems from a time while Joe Biden was still Vice President. In 2009, Hunter Biden became a member of the board of directors at Burisma, the largest gas company in the Ukraine. Hunter’s compensation arrangement for his place on the board of directors was $850,000.
It was a short time later that a wave of elections ousted the regime in Ukraine and new blood came to power with an agenda of ridding the company of corruption. Burisma’s CEO, Mykola Zlochevsky had also been environment minister under the ousted regime. Investigations into his government role had to do with allegations of corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, and irregularities in the awarding of gas licenses. Because of these investigations, Hunter’s role with Burisma became entangled as officials investigated how much the board knew of Zlochevsky’s alleged crimes.
While Vice President, Joe Biden was a key person in negations and diplomacy with Ukraine. He made at least a dozen visits to the then President’s office. At one point, he delivered a message to the President of Ukraine that a $1 billion loan would be withheld if Ukraine’s prosecutor was not asked to stand down. How much Joe Biden’s involvement in the investigation and how much Hunter was affected by the investigation remains unclear.
What does seem clear by the transcript of Trump’s call with President Zelensky is that Trump is using his political power to press for a continued investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. He specifically tries asking for a political favor in exchange for providing javelins to the Ukraine, as well as to continued good diplomatic relations. That favor is the investigation into the Bidens.
I don’t know for sure whether laws were broken with the conversation in the transcript. It’s probably proper for a president to inquire about a foreign potential investigation into a former vice president. However, it is certainly improper for a sitting president to use his office to leverage US trade relations with a foreign power to get them to help him defeat a political opponent. It’s a highly improper abuse of power. But is it illegal?
Rather than offer an unschooled opinion of legality, I would prefer to say that the purpose of impeachment in the Constitution is to determine whether the President (with good evidence) has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” that violate the Constitution and the President’s position in office. Insofar as there is significant evidence that needs exploration, I would say that it probably does justify a call for impeachment — with impeachment being the prescribed constitutional mechanism to remedy the situation where a president has committed an offense that necessitates removal from office.
Allegations of using the office of the President to destroy political opponents is a very serious matter that undermines the goals and spirit of the Constitution. It undermines any nation’s efforts to operate under a government for and by the people. If sitting presidents can use their power to eliminate opponents, then why bother with elections? This is the sort of thing tyrants do.
This is no attempt to defend the Bidens. The appearances of what occurred and the allegations smell really bad. I do hope Ukraine continues its investigation, and if the Bidens are shown to have committed crimes, there needs to be action taken against them in the US. The abuse of power with a vice president should be treated no differently than an abuse of power with the presidency.
An impeachment of Trump would be a circus, and it would be a lot of political theater the Democrats will use to promote their own campaigns. The Democrats pushing for impeachment are no white knights clutching the Constitution in hand. They are opportunists using a situation to their advantage, just as Trump has done as outlined in the transcript of his phone call.
In that vein, Democrats calling for impeachment aren’t really much different from Trump using his office for political gain. However, despite the motives of the Democrats being less than clean, it is a part of their job to act as a check and balance against the office of the President. Perhaps they are performing this particular job for all the wrong reasons, but impeachment is something that deserves at least some consideration — as does an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden.
I believe the most important takeaway from the situation is that it highlights the power that is held in all the offices of politicians within government. Government should have so little power that government officials cannot make newsworthy abuses.
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