By O.P. Gupta
US President Donald Trump has been facing one after the other frame-ups set up by some ideologically opposed American bureaucrats inducted during the Democratic administrations who could not reconcile to his election in 2016. Failure of President Trump to weed out such bureaucrats before they struck is another cause for his recurring troubles. Democratic politicians took advantage of such bureaucrats to harass Trump.
The current impeachment saga is the latest one in chain of palace coups attempts against presidential candidate Trump before the 2016 polls, and, against him after the election.
This impeachment chain publicly started on September 9 when Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community notified the House Intelligence Committee that he received a whistleblower’s complaint relating to an “urgent concern” on August 12 and that he found the information credible, and sent “my determination of a credible urgent concern” along with a copy of the complaint to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who had seven days to forward the complaint to Congress.
But, contrary to “past practice”, Maguire did not forward the complaint to Congress, believing “the allegations do not meet the definition of an ‘urgent concern’ under the (whistleblower) statute”. Consequently, three House committees all controlled by Democrats announced investigations into whether Trump and Giuliani tried to pressure Ukraine into conducting “politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity”.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, Chairman House Intelligence committee, on September 13 issued subpoena to the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to submit all relevant documents. Maguire called the complaint “unprecedented”.
The whistleblower complaint filed on August 12 but not released until September 26 – is partially corroborated by official transcript of July 25 call between US President and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. The transcript released by the White House on September 25, confirmed that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump told Zelensky: “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Perusal of the whistleblower complaint shows that he had no firsthand information on telephone talks of July 25 between the two Presidents and that his complaint is based on what he learnt from other un-named officials.
Schiff refused to divulge identity of the whistleblower citing the anonymity guaranteed under the Whistleblower Act and refused to call it before the Committee to be cross examined by Republican members of the Committee and attorneys of President Trump.
Not giving an opportunity to the President’s team to cross examine the whistleblower violated the 5th and 14th Amendment rights of Trump as an American citizen putting under question mark constitutional validity of the entire proceedings of this committee.
Schiff also did not allow Republicans to issue subpoenas and call their witnesses which was objected by Republicans. Schiff held many depositions behind closed doors which was also vehemently opposed by Republicans. President Trump, therefore, did not cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee accusing it of not honouring due process as guaranteed by the US Constitution. Republicans openly suspected Schiff to have vetted the whistleblower complaint before August 12 which he had vehemently denied though admitted that some staff of Intelligence Committee did meet whistleblower to guide him about filing of complaint.
For the same reasons President Trump did not cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee also though it did ask him to be represented by his attorneys.
Real Clear Investigations recently reported on the identity of the whistleblower and that he is a registered Democrat Eric Ciaramella having close ties to former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and former CIA Chief John Brennan. Not only does Ciaramella have an extreme political bias against President Trump, but he reportedly helped start the Russian collusion investigation into his campaign back in 2016.
On December 13, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee adopted two articles of impeachment (Resolution H 755) against President Trump recommending his impeachment to the full House of Representatives. Both articles appear to have clay feet which can be demolished by sustained Republican publicity. The first article accuses Trump of abuse of power and the second article of obstructing the Congress. Important thing to be noted is that voting on both articles in the Judiciary Committee was on party lines 23:17, all 23 Democrats voting for and all 17 Republicans against.
In the House Intelligence Committee, all Republicans joined hands to issue their version of minority report defending Trump and voted against the report of the Committee.
Now as per procedure, the two articles of impeachment were placed before the full House of Representatives for voting. The full House approved the two articles on December 18 by simple majority on party lines: first was passed 230-197 votes and the second by 229-198 votes.
Democrats have 233 members in the House. Some party members did not support impeachment whereas all the Republicans voted en bloc against both the articles of impeachment. Impeachment motion thus had no bi-partisan support in the House.
While conducting the impeachment trial, Senators will function as juries and the Senate trial will be presided over by the US Chief Justice John Roberts. This Senate trial may commence in January 2020 if the full House passes the articles of impeachment. If the US Senate approves articles of impeachment by two third majority, Trump will stand removed from office.
Full strength of the US Senate is 100, so two third majority means support of not less than 67 Senators to convict the President. At present there are 53 Republican Senators, 45 Democrat and two Independent. So if all the Republican Senators remain united in upholding Trump’s innocence as has been the case so far in the House Committees, the impeachment will certainly fail.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican Senator from Kentucky, told reporters that there was no chance of Trump being convicted by the Senate.
Let us look at the text of the articles of impeachment as passed by the House Judiciary Committee:
Article I of Impeachment: Abuse of Power: “Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election. He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his re-election, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage. President Trump also sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the 2 investigations. President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit. In so doing, President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the Nation.”
Article II of Impeachment: Obstruction of Justice: “In violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, Donald J. Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its ‘sole Power of Impeachment’.”
Democrats in effect are, thus, creating a new political principle by impeachment: that a Republican President cannot ask to investigate allegations of corruption against his potential party rival as such investigations may give advantage to him in election. Such a demand by Democrats is immoral as well as untenable in law. Republican publicity should draw focused attention of American voters to this new political principle being laid down by Democrats.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden was not the sole official Democratic Presidential candidate at the time of the Trump-Zelensky phone call. So how could Joe Biden be claimed by Democrats to be an electoral rival of President Trump as the former may or may not get his party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential election?
As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the US and as Republican election promises made in 2016 to the American people to eradicate corruption in public life, Trump was/is duty bound to ask officers as well as all those countries with which Washington has mutual legal assistance treaties to investigate all cases of corruption.
So Trump soliciting the Ukrainian President to investigate the Bidens cannot be called unlawful or soliciting undue/illegal foreign interference in the 2020 election.
It is common sense that asking for a report or investigation does not mean inventing dirt on persons under investigation as wrongly presumed by House Democrats in first article of impeachment. Investigation either clears persons investigated or holds them guilty. Investigations bring out facts and not dirt.
It is seen that the US-Ukraine Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters which was signed at Kiev on July 22, 1998 during the Bill Clinton Presidency has not yet been invoked by Republican strategists to defend Trump. Existence of this Treaty justifies and legitimatizes Trump taking up the Biden issues with Zelensky.
Admiral James Lyons in his article of April 11, 2018 carried in the Canada Free Press has quoted former US Ambassador to Ukraine opining that Hunter Biden’s employment by Burisma undercut that message of anti-corruption emanating from the Obama-Biden administration.
It was, therefore, necessary for Trump to distance his administration from this cloudy image of Obama-Biden administration on issue of fighting corruption as Joe Biden was rumoured to have pressed the former Ukraine President to fire the Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin who was prosecuting the Burisma matter. Trump did distancing by asking Zelensky to continue with investigations of corruption. PTrump’s this action is well covered under Articles 1 and 2(4) of the US Ukraine Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
In the July call, Trump never asked the Ukrainian President to invent dirt on the Bidens as incorrectly alleged by Democrats. He never personally linked investigations into Burisma/Bidens to disbursement of US military aid. There is no document or even firsthand evidence of such linkage or quid pro quo. In fact as events show that US military aid was disbursed by Trump without Zelensky starting the Biden investigations.
A lot of fuss has been created by the Democrats about use of word “favour” by Trump in the phone call. It is a polite form and never constitutes a demand or order or pressure particularly when both parties to talk are sovereign equals. In addition, Zelensky has himself clarified time and again that there was no pressure from President Trump to start investigations against Biden/Burisma or link it with release of US military aid. Democrats state that such denial by the Ukrainian President cannot be real.
When we diplomats talk of seeking favour from our counterparts, we never mean any personal favour, it is always a favour for the country. Here again Democrats have given a spin to the word favour which Republicans should explain to public.
It is, thus, clear that Trump committed no illegalities in his dealings with Ukraine that he has been accused of, but presentation of Trump’s defence so far has been rather ad hoc and weak which should be augmented by lining up US Ukraine Treaty, arguments of violation of 5th and 14th Amendment rights of Trump by House committees among others. Position of President Trump that subpoenas issued by House committees were unconstitutional so invalid needs more elaboration in Republican publicity.
(The writer belongs to the 1971 batch of the Indian Foreign Service and served as Indian Ambassador, High Commissioner and Consul General in many countries.)