Calls for President Trump’s impeachment have now reached a fevered pitch in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. The latest excuse to reverse the results of the 2016 presidential election is Ukrainegate. NBC has reported that, according to its tally, “[T]wo hundred and twenty one House Democrats and one independent — a majority of the chamber’s 435 members — now favor some kind of impeachment action against President Donald Trump.” The president’s decision to lean towards transparency and release key documents relevant to his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last July – a detailed memo of the call and a so-called “whistleblower” complaint that triggered the current uproar in Congress and the media – only increased the feeding frenzy. Thursday’s appearance of Joseph Maguire, the acting director of National Intelligence, before the House Intelligence Committee gave the Democrats a platform to try and stir up popular support for impeachment, in some cases with gross distortions of what the documents actually said.
The so-called whistleblower complaint that has Democrats and the Trump-hating media salivating was based on repetition of hearsay assertions made by unnamed U.S. Government officials that “the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The complaint alleged that such interference includes “pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.” That would be former Vice President Joe Biden. “I was not a direct witness to most of the events described,” the whistleblower admitted upfront in the complaint, but he or she still insisted that the second-hand version of the critical events outlined in the complaint was credible because the sources were consistent with each other. Based on the sources’ own conclusory characterizations of events they had recounted to the whistleblower, the whistleblower claimed to be “concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
Much of the complaint focused on the July 25, 2019 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. Again, the whistleblower was not privy to the call. He or she based his or her version on second-hand information. But now we have the publicly released memo of the call, prepared in part with the involvement of career intelligence officers, which is the closest we can get to a full verbatim transcription. We also have Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s own recollection of the call. Thus, we know that what the whistleblower passed off as a description of the nature of the call that he or she claimed came from multiple White House officials “with direct knowledge of the call” was misleading at best. The complaint alleged – falsely, as it turn out – that “after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”
First, the call dealt with a range of matters unrelated to Biden. The two leaders discussed sanctions against Russia, Europe’s lack of adequate assistance to Ukraine and of enforcement of the sanctions as compared to the United States, and the new Ukrainian government’s intention to clean up the rampant corruption problem that has plagued Ukraine for years. We also know from the call memo that President Trump’s request for a “favor” from the Ukrainian president had nothing to do with Biden. It had to do with an issue involving the 2016 election – namely, a request to gather information on servers used by the Democratic National Committee and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike that President Trump thought might be located in Ukraine.
Since when is wanting assistance from a foreign leader to get to the bottom of alleged interference by his country’s prior government in the previous U.S. presidential election anything but the responsible action of the president of the United States, who is duty bound to take care that U.S. laws be faithfully executed? Considering that alleged foreign interference in the 2016 election has been the subject of numerous official investigations during the last three years and continues to be, as U.S. Attorney John Durham currently investigates Ukrainian officials’ alleged involvement in that election, President Trump’s request for the Ukrainian president’s assistance was entirely appropriate.
Second, President Zelenskyy said that he did not feel “pushed” by President Trump to do anything involving the 2020 election. Are we really supposed to accept as the gospel truth the whistleblower’s second-hand account of others’ conclusory assertions of “pressure” exerted on President Zelenskyy when the object of such alleged pressure said that he did not feel any such pressure? Of course not. Moreover, the memo detailing the call evidences the fact that there were no conditions placed by President Trump on providing aid to Ukraine or setting up a face-to-face meeting with the Ukrainian president that required President Zelenskyy’s commitment to dig up dirt on Biden. The memo of the call is superior evidence than second-hand assertions by unnamed officials of what transpired during the call.
Third, lost in all of the smoke raised by the complaint about President Trump’s request to the Ukrainian president for help in investigating the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine while Joe Biden was serving as vice president is what appeared to be a pay for access scheme that financially benefited Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Hunter managed to obtain a lucrative sinecure for himself on the board of a Ukrainian energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch, Burisma Holdings, a position for which Hunter had absolutely no qualifications. Hunter’s sinecure just so happened to come about after his father was assigned by President Obama to manage U.S. relations with Ukraine. Presumably persuading Ukraine officials to combat the country’s rampant corruption problem was part of father Joe’s portfolio. The former vice president, by his own admission, demanded that the Ukrainian top prosecutor at the time be fired immediately or the Obama administration would withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees. But did Joe Biden act out of an honest concern about reports of the head prosecutor’s failure to take his country’s corruption problem seriously or did Biden want the head prosecutor gone because he was said to be looking into allegations of corruption at the Ukrainian company paying Hunter so much money? That is a relevant question for anyone to ask who is sincerely interested in good governance both in this country and in a country to which we are providing substantial financial assistance.
The whistleblower complaint did mention the firing of the head prosecutor as well as allegations involving the Bidens. However, the complaint did not take seriously the possible linkage between Joe Biden’s involvement in the firing and a possible motive on his part to provide cover for the company that employed his son. The whistleblower considered it a mere allegation from another Ukrainian prosecutor, who was not to be trusted according to other Ukrainians mentioned in the complaint. Why should we trust these other Ukrainians? The whistleblower does not provide a believable answer. One unnamed former senior Ukrainian prosecutor also reportedly told Bloomberg last May, according to the complaint, that the fired prosecutor whom Joe Biden had wanted out of the way was “in fact was not investigating Burisma at the time of his removal in 2016.” However, investigative reporter John Solomon of The Hill said he has acquired “more than 450 pages” of documents from the State Department and Hunter Biden’s legal team showing how the legal team first tried to help Burisma escape scrutiny, which apparently worked when the head prosecutor was fired. Hunter’s lawyers then reached out to his replacement with a “false story.” Solomon claimed that “documents from the State Department; documents from Hunter Biden’s legal team; text messages from Hunter Biden’s own business partner, Kevin Archer, who joined him on the Board, and official documents from the Ukraine government,” which he received on the record, “tell a very different story than Joe Biden’s narrative to the American voter.”
The whistleblower concluded that President Trump’s request to the new Ukrainian president to reopen the Biden case was an abuse of power. It is ironic to say the least that someone claiming to be so concerned about alleged abuse of power thinks it is somehow wrong for the current president of the United States to want to see whether there was an abuse of power by the former vice president to help his son in a country where corruption was the rule rather than the exception. President Zelenskyy saw no pressure in President Trump’s request. In fact, he welcomed President Trump’s interest in the case. According to the call memo, President Zelenskyy said the “issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us.” To which President Trump responded that “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.”
There was no quid prop quo and no pressure. Only an offer of cooperation in the interest of rooting out corruption that is of vital interest to honest law enforcement officials in both countries.
Finally, the whistleblower complaint made much of a purported “lock down” of “all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced.” The “transcript,” the complaint said, “was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” Democrats leaped to accusations of a cover-up.
There are problems with the complaint’s “lock-down” recital. To begin with, there was no “word-for-word transcript of the call.” Rather, there was the call memo, which stated on its face that it “is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.” More importantly, after the leaks of the content of at least two prior phone conversations that President Trump had with foreign government leaders, the president had every right to direct heightened security for this call memo until he decided – not some leaker – whether to release it. Leader-to-leader conversations, beyond simple greetings, are inherently sensitive. Their release, especially portions taken out of context, can be embarrassing to foreign leaders and chill the opportunity for further honest communications.
The public is presently divided on whether the House should proceed with a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. With the help of the Trump-hating media and their own demagoguery, the Democrats will use the next two weeks, while they are away from Washington meeting with constituents, to try and tip the balance of public opinion against the president. But based on what has actually emerged so far in the released documents, the facts do not appear to support their case. In the end, just like with their Russian collusion obsession, the Democrats and their helpers in the media may well end up with egg on their faces.