Impeaching Trump will rip America apart – and all because of one telephone call with Zelensky.
“It’s Happening!” This is how newspapers across the U.S. reacted to the announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Tuesday night. In a July 25 telephone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, President Trump asked Zelensky to investigate his main political rival – the Democratic presidential contender Joseph Biden. Essentially, President Trump solicited assistance from a foreign country to influence the U.S. presidential election.
Pelosi went ahead with her major declaration (so far, there have been only three impeachment inquiries in American history) before the whistleblower’s complaint and the transcript of the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky were released to the public. Some experts, journalists and members of the Democratic Party believe that Pelosi should have waited.
At the same time, President Trump has been denying that he pressured the Ukrainian president to do anything and that he provided any military and financial assistance to Ukraine in connection with the scandal. Furthermore, the president promised to get the full report published and, as usual, called the actions of the Democrats a witch hunt.
President Trump and President Zelensky met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York and answered some questions from journalists.
’You Are a Great Teacher for Us’
The White House published a five-page summary of the telephone call between Trump and Zelensky, acknowledging that the document was not a verbatim transcript but rather a memorandum that had been put together based on the notes and recollections of the United States National Security Agency staff and Situation Room duty officers. President Zelensky was not too enthusiastic about the publication. A political novice, he has already become an object of fierce criticism from Russia, and what is more important, from within Ukraine for:
• saying things like, “You are a great teacher for us,” when he was talking about Trump and forming a new government in Ukraine;
• criticizing EU countries that, according to the Ukrainian president, did not impose sufficient sanctions against Russia (as President Trump noted: “Germany does almost nothing for you”);
• calling the new general attorney of Ukraine “100 percent our guy”; and
• most importantly, agreeing to meet with Rudy Giuliani and asking Trump to provide him with additional information for investigating Biden’s son.
In 2015, Joe Biden, who was then vice president, tried to convince the government of Ukraine to fire Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, whom the U.S. and the EU considered to be a major obstacle in developing anticorruption efforts and judicial reforms. At the same time, Biden’s son, Hunter, was a board member of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company. President Trump and his supporters are now claiming that Joe Biden was trying to protect his son from an investigation at the time.
The investigation in Ukraine found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden. However, any controversy that could involve a conflict of interest or nepotism could seriously hurt his father. It is not going to be easy for Zelensky either. Now Zelensky has to navigate between a rock and a hard place, or simply choose whom he is going to support – Trump or Biden.
Congress Is Taking Action
The transcript proved to Pelosi and her supporters that Trump asked Zelensky to meet with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to discuss the fact the Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to oust the prosecutor general of the country and to stop the investigation against his son. Earlier, Zelensky had asserted that the only person who could pressure him was his six-year-old son. Even though there is no evidence of Biden pressuring Zelensky, the president of Ukraine seemed fine with the investigation.
The issue was not framed as a simple business transaction. There was no talk like, “You dig some dirt on Biden for us, and we will make sure you get your financial and military assistance,” in spite of what some Trump critics might say. However, one week before the call, President Trump froze more than $391 billion in foreign aid to Ukraine. After Washington allegedly reviewed its strategy toward Ukraine, the U.S. decided to lift the block on foreign aid. Conspiracy theorists say that Trump decided to restore the aid because President Zelensky agreed to help him.
At the same time, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee. In August, Inspector General Michael Atkinson received a whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump’s behavior and sent it to Maguire, who in turn was supposed to pass it along to Congress within a week. However, Maguire did not do that. He claimed that he released it to the Justice Department. The Justice Department took the president’s side and asserted that the complaint was not of urgent concern. Later, the White House released the redacted version of the complaint to Congress amid increasing scrutiny.
The Democrats are now discussing their next steps on impeachment. Even before the telephone call transcript was released, six House committees were investigating Trump’s misconduct – from tax evasion and questionable financial schemes to making hush-money payments to purported mistresses. Even if one does not include the controversy surrounding “Russiagate,” the list of Trump's wrongdoings is quite long.
The Constitution does not clearly outline everything about impeachment proceedings. For example, formal accusations can be issued either by the House Judiciary Committee or by a different committee specifically established for this purpose. Speaker Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry. However, the House of Representatives has not voted on formal impeachment proceedings.
It is quite possible that the House, which is the lower chamber of Congress, will vote for impeaching Trump since it is controlled by a Democratic majority. After that, the vote goes to the Senate, where a trial is held, and the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court presides over the proceedings, with the senators usually acting as a jury. The Republicans now have 53 votes. It would take 67 votes to convict the president.
Mathematically speaking, getting 20 votes from one party seems next to impossible so far.
However, if the procedure lasts for more than a year up until the 2020 election when the public might push for impeachment, the Republican senators will have to think not only about acting in solidarity, but about their future. Thirty-four Senate seats will be up for election in 2020.
So far, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 57% of Americans are against impeachment, and 37% are in favor. The survey was conducted before the details about Trump’s phone call with Zelensky were released.
Trump’s supporters assert that the transcript proves Trump did not threaten President Zelensky. The Republicans think that playing the victim card will help Trump mobilize his supporters.
Trump will be the fourth U.S. president in history to face an impeachment inquiry. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for his persistent attempts to fire Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who supported radical Reconstruction policies. Johnson was not convicted.
In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned amid impeachment proceedings, knowing that the Senate would not support him. In his first executive order, the new president, Gerald Ford, granted Nixon a full and unconditional pardon. I do not doubt that the current Vice President Mike Pence will do the same if he gets the chance.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton was initiated in 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice after the president lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was not convicted. Thus, from a historical perspective, the score is now two to one against impeaching a president.
Impeaching Trump is not currently a goal in and of itself. The main concerns are who is going to be the next president and where the U.S. is headed. Impeachment will unavoidably exacerbate polarization in American society and will advance disagreements between the globalists and the nationalists, as well as between the liberals and the conservatives, to the next level.