After several exchanges with friends and family over the last two weeks, I finally forced myself to sit down and write this column. Truth be told, I am dreadfully tired of writing, talking, or thinking about President Trump. He is exactly the same as he was four years ago when he was running for office– an incurious, incompetent, corrupt, and vile man. Because I have made my position on Trump clear for so long I felt like I had no obligation to articulate my position on impeachment. After all, this President does something worth impeaching him over every quarter or so. But after seeing how many intelligent, well-meaning, and important people in my life still cannot fathom that Trump has done anything wrong I feel compelled to act.
Let me be clear: Even if the aid hadn’t been held up or the meeting with the Ukrainian President hadn’t been conditional, Donald Trump’s request that the Ukrainian government investigate two conspiracy theories (that the DNC server hacked in the 2016 election is hidden in Ukraine and that Vice President Biden used the power of his office to shield his son Hunter from prosecution) was still deeply wrong and worthy of impeachment. Why? Because in a democracy the sanctity of our elections is essential. If voters cease to believe that elections are fair and honest democracy becomes impossible. It will erode civic trust, make governing impossible, and could even lead to violence. This is a grave sin worthy of the most severe punishment.
This is not business as usual. Historians pour over the personal correspondence and communications of Presidents and world leaders. There is not a single instance of another President asking for something like this. FDR didn’t ask Stalin to look into Father Coughlin. Reagan wasn’t pressuring Desmond Tutu to make outlandish claims about American liberals being communists before agreeing to meet with him. Other than Warren Harding, I cannot imagine another President acting so selfishly in such a brazen manner.
Let me repeat this: the favor is wrong and no other President has ever asked for one. Despite this, no one denies that Trump asked for this favor. It is outlined for the world to see in his “transcript.” So how are some conservatives still coming to the conclusion that this is a partisan witch hunt?
For some, it is simple tribalism. They will never go against the GOP no matter what Trump does. Others hate liberals and the Democratic Party so much that they will tolerate anything to avoid having someone from the opposition in power. These people are unreachable (and are the worst kind of stupid). Most fall into a third category– they are busy with work, family, and friends and have little time, bandwidth, and interest in following the ins and outs of this process. So they simply go by what they hear and see from social media and the headlines on the media outlet they casually enjoy. Inside the conservative echo chamber this narrative reigns: The impeachment is nothing more than the latest attempt by the Democrats to remove Trump. It is either sour grapes about the 2016 election or an end-around on 2020. You don’t need to pay attention to the details because the whole thing is crooked. I hate to break it to you, Fox News viewers, but Sean Hannity and company are lying to you. Again.
First, the obvious. In politics, whenever someone tells you not to pay attention to something rest assured that that something is a big deal.
Second, the Mueller report had tons of incriminating information about the Trump campaign. Multiple Trump advisors ended up in jail, including his campaign manager. Fact: Russia interfered in the 2016 election and their interference leaned in the direction of Donald Trump. From reaching out to Trump surrogates to coordinating the Wikileaks dump of DNC emails, Russia undermined the 2016 election. Every credible national security expert and law enforcement branch in the United States agrees on this point.
Third, this inquiry isn’t the result of Democratic probing. A whistleblower from inside the Trump administration was unnerved by the President asking for domestic political favors from a foreign government. As they should have. It is both illegal and immoral. As I said above, it is a blatant attack on democracy. Republicans have tried at length to expose the identity of this whistleblower, hoping they could repeat the trick they played in the Mueller investigation. If the whistleblower is a Democrat or NeverTrumper they hope to use that to sell the idea that this is all partisan fighting and not a real issue. In fact, they have used this defense repeatedly, including on people the Trump administration themselves handpicked as recently as six months ago to be part of the foreign policy team in Ukraine.
This story is real and you should be reading what the witnesses testify to.
Let’s look at the order of events and what we know about the scandal from the documents and statements released by the White House and the testimony in the impeachment hearings:
- Rudy Giuliani had been working with various officials from the last two Ukrainian governments to investigate various conspiracy theories that are useful to the President’s re-election campaign since January of 2019. He has said so repeatedly on television and no one has denied that he has done so.
- Trump congratulated Zelensky when he was elected in April. Trump said nothing about rooting out corruption or any other policy aim.
- In May, the US government certified that Ukraine had taken significant steps to prevent corruption and was cleared to receive the military aid appointed by Congress and that the aid would be provided within 15 days. The aid did not arrive on that timeline.
- Throughout the month of May Giuliani is busy accusing the US ambassador to Ukraine of being unloyal to Trump and planting stories with Sean Hannity and others to that effect (there is no evidence Yovanovitch had done anything to undermine US foreign policy or the President). Giuliani and Trump both push the Biden and 2016 election conspiracies in the news throughout the month.
- In late May, Rick Perry, Gordon Sondland, and Kurt Volker (the Three Amigos) attend Zelensky’s inauguration and come away impressed. However, Trump remains unmoved and the three men agree that Rudy Guliani and the conspiracy theories dominate Trump’s thinking on Ukraine.
- June 12, Donald Trump tells George Stephanopoulos he would accept “oppo research” from a foreign power. This is not the first or the last time he would publicly state he was willing to do this.
- June 18, the State Department announces it is sending the security assistance to Ukraine.
- July 18, Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget refused to release the approved aid (Trump would confirm this happened in a September 23 interview).
- Various emails and texts in July from Sondland to Taylor, Mulvaney, Perry, and Volker show that the conditions for getting a phone call with Trump required getting Zelensky to agree to investigate the 2016 election rumors and the Bidens.
- On July 25 Trump and Zelensky have their infamous talk. Trump asked President Zelensky for the two favors (investigations into 2016 election and the Bidens) and to discuss the matter with Rudy Giuliani and Bill Barr. Barr claims he was never told to contact Zelensky and no official US investigation with Ukraine was opened into either topic.
- The same day as the fateful call between Trump and Zelensky, the Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense showed that “ a member of my staff got a question from a Ukrainian Embassy contact asking what was going on with U.S. security assistance.” In other words, the Ukrainians knew before the call that the aid was being withheld.
- July 26, Sondland calls Trump and is overheard by David Holmes speaking to the President. Holmes hears (and Sondland confirms) Trump ask Sondland if Zelensky was “gonna do the investigation?” Holmes states that Sondland claims the President is only interested in the “big stuff,” meaning the investigations into 2016 and the Bidens.
- Early August, Giuliani meets with one of Zelensky’s aides in Madrid as part of a direct follow up to the July 25 call on the topic of the investigations. Giuliani urges the Ukrainians to “just investigate the darn things.” Rudy told this to the NYT on his own. Volker and Sondland both communicate with Zelensky aides on crafting an announcement into the investigations and that once that is done they can schedule a White House visit for the Ukrainian President.
- August 11, Sondland sends the following email to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:
“Mike – Kurt and I negotiated a statement from Ze[lensky] to be delivered for our review in a day or two. The contents will hopefully make the boss happy enough to authorize an invitation. Ze plans to have a big presser on the openness subject (including specifics) next week.” No one from the State Department or White House has offered evidence that counters this.
- August 12, the whistleblower files a complaint about the call after hearing from over half a dozen US officials about the President’s conduct. A second whistleblower came forward in September.
- August 13, Volker texts Sondland to follow up on their August 11 conversation: “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections, which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future.”
- August 15, the White House officially knows that a whistleblower has filed a complaint about the July 25 call. This means Trump knows that there will be scrutiny and possibly an investigation into his requests of Zelensky.
- August 26, the Inspector General sends the whistleblower complaint to the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. Maguire has seven days to send it to the appropriate committee chair.
- August 28, Politico runs a story saying the White House is “slow-walking” Ukrainian aid. Defense Department confirms this the next day to Senator Dick Durbin.
- September 1, Sondland tells a Zelensky aide that “resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.” This is also when Taylor texts Sondland to ask “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland responded with “Call me.”
- September 3, a bipartisan group of Senators write a letter demanding the aid be released.
- September 8, Sondland tells Taylor “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check” to explain Trump’s strategy of withholding the aid. The only thing Trump has asked for that Ukraine could “pay” are the investigations into 2016 and the Bidens.
- September 9, Trump calls Sondland and tells him he wants nothing from Ukraine and “no quid pro quo.” But he does expect Zelensky to “do the right thing.” The only “thing” he could be expecting Zelensky to “do right” are the investigations into 2016 and the Bidens. This is the same day the IG tells the House Intelligence Committee about the credible whistleblower complaint and announcements from three House committees that they will be investigating Trump and Guliani’s actions in Ukraine.
- September 11, Trump releases the aid to Ukraine.
- September 12, the Senate Committee on Appropriations prepares to hold a scheduled meeting to discuss an amendment to force the Trump administration to release aid. Lindsey Graham explains that the administration had released the funds the night before because of the amendment. “That’s why it was released because I was going to vote for it. So I think they’ve got the message.” The aid was not willingly released by Trump, it was forced out by bi-partisan Senate action.
- September 19, Rudy does this...
- September 21, the Wall Street Journal reports that multiple sources confirmed to them that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son and to “work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”
- September 23, Trump pivots to claiming that he wants to make sure Ukraine is “honest.” “It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” The mechanisms the US uses to evaluate corruption had already approved Ukraine and Trump has provided zero evidence that he was interested in any corruption outside of the two conspiracy theories he wanted investigated.
- September 24, Trump pivots again to claiming he withheld aid because he wanted European countries to give as much as the US. As Fiona Hill testified, the EU already gives substantially more aid to Ukraine than the US does. There is no evidence Trump asked any EU allies to increase Ukrainian aid as a condition of releasing US approved aid. It also makes no sense.
- September 25, Trump releases the memo of the July 25 call. It confirms that he asked Zelensky for the two favors and accused his own ambassador of being a problem.
- October 2, State Department turns over a file of documents regarding the White House’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the two conspiracy theories. The materials come from Rudy and no one denies that they are real. They are not the product of the deep state or Democrats– they come straight from the President’s lawyer.
This is just a “short” list of what we know. Everything I have listed here has been heavily reported. These are the facts.
Historians do not simply write out facts. They interpret the facts and explain causality. In other words, we like to explain what it all means. In the case of impeaching Donald Trump, here is what the evidence tells us:
- Trump unequivocally asked Zelensky to investigate two conspiracy theories that do nothing for US national security or foreign policy but have value to his re-election campaign. He solicited a political bribe.
- Trump and Giuliani ran this process through Volker, Sondland, and Perry rather than the official channels. Why?
- Because Trump and Giuliani’s goals had nothing to do with diplomacy or foreign policy. They were, as Rudy has said on TV repeatedly, in the interest of his client, President Trump.
- Trump withheld the aid to Ukraine to extort his favors.
- The Ukrainians knew the aid was withheld.
- Given that the only thing Trump asked them for was the investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election conspiracies they knew what the aid was being withheld for.
- This only served Donald Trump. No one else involved had anything to gain from this scheme.
- This was deeply corrupt and damaging to both the Ukraines efforts to defend themselves from Russian aggression and for the long-term health of democracy in the United States.
What about the GOP excuses?
- Trump said there was no quid pro quo to Sondland! This is meaningless. Trump only said this to Sondland AFTER he was caught and even then still expected Zelensky to “do the right thing.” As Michael Cohen told us, this is the coded way Trump likes to talk in when he is doing illegal business.
- The aid was released! The aid was only released when the Senate started asking questions and threatened to block all State Department funding if the aid was not released.
- All the evidence is heresy! The testimony is largely second hand, outside of Sondland, but the evidence is not. Giuliani’s paperwork and public statements are not heresy. Nor are the emails from Sondland, Volker, Perry, and Taylor. These men were tasked with carrying out orders from the President. Their actions served no purpose but pursuing something the President has said repeatedly that he wants. There is no rational reason to suspect that they were doing anything but what they claimed to be doing– carrying out the President’s foreign policy.
And that policy was deeply damaging and corrupt. It is the exact type of political malfeasance that the Founders intended for the impeachment clause in the Constitution to address.
The President of the United States asked a foreign leader to investigate his political rival and to provide cover for the narrative that it wasn’t the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win but was actually the Ukrainians who meddled in the election to help Hillary Clinton. No politician in a legitimate democratic society should be soliciting fake investigations from foreign countries in order to smear their domestic rivals. This is tin pot dictator stuff. There is no excuse for Trump’s actions and no viable defense has been mounted.
To my friends and family who may still not understand how I’ve come to these conclusions, please reach out. This is a moment of grave historical consequence. It deserves serious thought.