The public impeachment hearings are finished in the House, and what have we learned from them?
Here are the outlines. President Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, Rudy Giuliani, went off to Ukraine to barter for political favors on behalf of Trump and some of Rudy’s other shady clients. He had two demands. The first was an investigation into a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the US election, which was intended to take attention away from Russian meddling that Trump saw as undermining the legitimacy of his 2016 election victory. The second was a demand that Ukraine announce an investigation of Joe Biden’s son, which was an attempt to create a politically embarrassing story for the politician Trump clearly sees as his most dangerous opponent in the next election.
Giuliani talked a Ukrainian prosecutor widely regarded as being corrupt into giving him those favors (in exchange for Trump firing a US ambassador the prosecutor didn’t like). But then in a surprise election result, a new president won the Ukrainian election and got rid of Giuliani’s man in Kiev. This left Trump and Giuliani scrambling, so they hijacked the normal diplomatic apparatus for dealing with Ukraine, holding up important meetings with Trump and eventually putting a hold on military aid appropriated by Congress in order to pressure the new Ukrainian president to deliver political favors to Trump.
Most of this was confirmed in the testimony from Gordon Sondland, a Republican donor who bought his way into an ambassadorship. My main impression from Sondland’s testimony is that this is a guy who had no diplomatic experience and no experience in government, so he seems genuinely surprised that anything he was doing was wrong and genuinely confused about why everybody is blaming him. From his perspective, he was just a guy dealing with a difficult and temperamental client (Trump) and doing what was needed to make the deal. More to the point, Sondland insisted (and produced some evidence to this effect) that everyone else knew what was going on and what kind of deal he was trying to make. He implicated everybody above him in the chain of command: “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.” Specifically, he connected the chain to the president. Everything he was doing was at the behest of Rudy Giuliani, and he was taking orders from Giuliani because Trump insisted on it.
Since there has been a concerted effort to confuse the issue, let me repeat why all of this is wrong and is an abuse of power. It is normal and acceptable for the president (in partnership with Congress) to place conditions on support for another country and to ask for a quid pro quo—on behalf of the American people. It is corrupt for him to demand a quid pro quo on his own behalf.
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