Take yes for an answer: Why impeaching Trump on Ukraine means holding him accountable for Russiagate

All roads lead to Putin.

That’s what Speaker Pelosi said to Donald Trump’s face in the now-famous White House exchange that made the Speaker standing up to Trump a classic, literal, snapshot in history. The meeting was about Trump’s abandoning of American allies in Syria, but no one can deny that the Speaker’s comment, in addition to pointing out that Trump is delivering in Syria for Russia and Turkey, also had the subtext of the formal impeachment inquiry, which Pelosi launched a fortnight prior.

In the context of the House voting today to formalize the rules for the public hearing phase of that impeachment inquiry, it is important that we understand the truth and weight of those words. It is particularly important because a significant, though small, undercurrent in the progressive intelligentsia, activism, and social media claim that the “narrow” focus on the Ukraine quid-pro-quo is a mistake, that the impeachment investigations should have started long ago, and that Individual-1 ought not get a pass on the crimes uncovered during the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russiagate.

In other words: Too little. Too late. Too narrow.

A leading voice among this corner of liberal thought is David Rothkopf. Rothkopf comes with some serious national security and foreign policy chops. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a professor of international studies, and a veteran of the Clinton administration.

So I took notice when he published a 23-tweet thread outlining his view that House Democrats have lost time, opportunity, and broadness by not launching an impeach inquiry much broader in time, resources, and subject matter.

Rothkopf argues - along with many of the same view - that Republicans will quash the impeachment in the Senate (by not convicting Trump out of political interest), that the Constitutional responsibility to impeach the president is more significant than political timing, and that the narrow focus on Ukraine is tantamount to (or will be seen as tantamount to) letting Trump off the hook for Russian invasion of our democracy. He argues that the Mueller Report should have formed the basis of a much broader inquiry.

Except that it did.

The mistake being made here is not by Speaker Pelosi in choosing to focus the impeachment inquiry on the Ukrainian scandal, but by Rothkopf and others in failing to recognize that Ukraine-gate is, in fact and substance, the same as Russiagate.

That is not simply because the same elemental offenses exist in both instances: seeking and/or receiving foreign assistance and intervention in a US election, obstruction and coverup, and promoting personal profit over national security.

The sameness of Trump’s Ukraine and Russia scandals are not that they are similar in nature. It’s that it is one scandal. Not two. One.

Let’s first get the timeline squared away.

  • April 18 - Public release of the Mueller report. The Special Counsel’s report on the Trump-Russia scandal was submitted to Attorney General Barr on March 22, 2019, and a redacted version was released to the public on April 18. Democrats immediately held hearings and heard from witnesses following the release.

  • July 24 - Mueller testifies to the House Intelligence Committee. In his testimony, Mueller makes it clear that charges were not considered against Trump because of a Justice Department memo that exempts a sitting president from prosecution.

  • July 26 - Democrats tell Court an impeachment investigation is underway. Just two days after Mueller’s testimony, Democratic Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, files suit seeking grand jury material redacted from the Mueller report. In the filing, the Committee makes it explicit that it is engaged in an investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president, elevating the proceedings into a quasi-judicial proceeding entitled to see grand jury material from a standard Congressional oversight investigation, which is not.

In other words, there has been a formal impeachment investigation based on the Trump-Russia scandal at least since July 26 of this year. The idea that impeachment did not begin until one courageous patriot blew the whistle on Trump’s Ukrainian quid pro quo is simply false.

Incidentally, July 25 was the date on which the fateful conversation between Trump and Zelenskyy (president of Ukraine) took place, just one day after the Mueller testimony that was framed by the media as anticlimactic but was clearly taken very seriously by House leaders. Trump, known to be a full-time consumer of television news, believed that he was out of the woods.

The reason Trump’s call to Zelenskyy and the shadow-foreign policy machine spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani to compel the Ukrainians to deliver an investigation to seek political dirt on Joe Biden are relevant is not simply that it laid bare the crass political abuse of power on the part of the administration. It’s important to note just what it is that Trump was after in Ukraine: he wanted Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Biden, yes, but he also wanted to validate a discredited right-wing conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that had intervened in the 2016 presidential elections in favor of Hillary Clinton and not Russia to elect Trump. Donald Trump is obsessed with trying to blame anyone but Russia for the attack on the 2016 elections because he knows that the unanimous intelligence assessment in the United States and the western world that Russians meddled in the election in favor of Trump undermines his legitimacy. Egotistical and self-serving in the superlative, charges of illegitimacy are the hardest for him to swallow.

Trump’s ire is on a security company that the DNC hired to investigate the 2016  hacking of their system that turned out to be the work of Russians. Trump continues to claim that the company, Crowdstrike, is owned by some rich Ukrainian (it is not - it was founded by an American who was born in Russia and immigrated to the US when they were a toddler), and that it is hiding a DNC server is somewhere in Ukraine (once again, it is not). He wants Joe Biden investigated because as Vice President, Biden was a strong anticorruption crusader (and being so earned him friends as well as enemies), and in turn, that anti-corruption push made it much harder for corrupt people like Giuliani and Trump to manipulate the government in Ukraine to back up his baseless conspiracy theory.

In fact, to this day, Donald Trump’s personal attorney Attorney General William Barr is traveling around in Europe to aid a politically motivated criminal investigation into how the Russian investigation was started, having failed to convince the American people that the results of the investigation “exonerated” Trump.

All told, it is Donald Trump’s attempts to exonerate Russia from attack on the 2016 elections that spurred his pressure on Ukraine. Ukraine is simply the next chapter of the Russia saga. Impeaching him for what he did in Ukraine means impeaching him for trying to help Russia, trying to discredit the intelligence community and the Mueller investigation, and trying to corrupt our defenses against Russia.

Take yes for an answer.

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