The looming impeachment inquiry hearings that the public can watch in all its fascination and horror

By J Brooks Spector 8 November 2019

epa06895349 US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media while meeting with members of Congress in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 17 July 2018. President Trump has received bipartisan criticism for his handling of a news conference with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, 16 July. Critics accuse Trump of failing to stand up to the Russian leader and betraying US intelligence agencies by publicly casting doubt on their findings. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

The US president’s woes may be about to become significantly more daunting as the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin next Wednesday. Live. On television. His defenders are now basically falling back on the claim that the Trump administration is too dumb to organise the fateful quid pro quo.

It has finally come to this, the nearly final redoubt for the Trump administration’s defence of itself in the spiralling “The Ukraine/quid pro quo/hunt for nonexistent plots involving Joe Biden and his son in exchange for military aid and a meeting for the new president of Ukraine with Donald Trump” constitutional crisis. We have got to get us a new, crisper, easier-to-remember name for this scandal. Right now this messy business is starting to look like the name of one of those long, compound German words describing a nasty, destructive weapon, or perhaps one of those legendary Welsh train stops.

We have already come a far way since the general distaste for the Trump presidency’s sleazy, moral obtuseness, the still-incomprehensible kowtowing to foreign despots from Kim Jong-un to Vladimir Putin, the inexplicable desire to pick fights with almost every other nation, and the president’s insistence on denigrating all manner of American minority groups and ethnicities, save for those in his cult. But for a while at least, we apparently were spared the obviousness of Trump’s use of the power of his presidency to undermine potential opponents in the 2020 presidential election.

No longer. That bridge has now been crossed. The initial American and Ukranian president’s phone call was called “perfect” by Donald Trump. Then, the original whistle-blower memorandum over the disturbing contents of that conversation had become public, along with other evidence, and all of that had been labelled, variously, by Trump, as witch hunts, fake news, fake witch hunts, hoaxes, and all the rest of that 10-year-old’s vocabulary. Nevertheless, the stream of government officials who have been willing to invoke the wrath of Trump’s invective (or worse) has increasingly drawn a picture of a rogue operation, largely spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani at the behest of the president for his personal political benefit.

In this, the aim was to squeeze the Ukrainians into opening investigations into ersatz corruption charges that would soil the possibilities of a Joe Biden campaign in 2020 for the Democrats. That would gain some face time for Ukraine’s new president with Trump and the release of those already appropriated for weapons needed to deal with the Russian-backed insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern provinces. Thus the now-infamous quid pro quo – a favour for other favours granted.

Along the way, while a number of current officials have – so far – declined to appear before the closed impeachment inquiry, under orders of the White House legal advisers, the former US ambassador to Ukraine (the one suddenly cashiered for not giving the wild man that is Giuliani total control over the asylum), the current American Embassy’s charge d’affaires in Kyiv (Kiev), Bill Taylor, several other senior State Department and National Security Council officials, and then, most tellingly, the Trump-appointed, non-career ambassador, Gordon Sondland, to the EU have testified.

The latter was obviously conflicted over his loyalty to an out-of-control president – versus his loyalty to the Constitution and his country. At first, as one of the so-called “three amigos”, along with special envoy on Ukraine Kurt Volker and energy secretary Rick Perry, Sondland had testified that all had been well with all things Ukranian and the president. But a few days later, he suddenly remembered some inconvenient facts and conversations that edged us right into those treacherous quid pro quo waters after all. Maybe some murdered sleep was getting to him.

As things have now gone forward, the witnesses’ respective testimonies and subsequent questioning by that in-camera House of Representatives panel have been released to the public, generally pointing towards a “shakedown” of Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Now, the Democratic-controlled House plans to begin formal, open, public, live-on-television hearings, beginning next Wednesday.

The same people, plus others, will now be called back for these open hearings. Now that lead committee chair Adam Schiff and his staff have a much clearer timeline and who said or did what to whom and when, readers should expect Schiff to carry out this investigation, rottweiler-like, pursuant to the responsibility invested in him from the earlier House vote for a formal impeachment investigation. He is a well-experienced prosecutor and this may be his moment. The Republicans were, for months, claiming the process was wrong because it was not open, but this excuse has now melted away.

Up until now, Republicans have tried to weasel around the meaning of what a quid pro quo might mean or not mean, and how it was all part of the normal flow of diplomatic conversation, even if it looked rather more like something out of The Sopranos or The Godfather, ie, “Do this one small favour for me. By the way, how’s your wife and kids? Everybody still healthy?”

But then, on Wednesday 7 November, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a stalwart defender of the president, has come up with the ultimate defence of the president. Forget process arguments, or syntactical, grammatical, or linguistic dissections of what a quid pro quo might mean. Here is what the senator said, in all its horror:

What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo. So no, I find the whole process to be a sham and I’m not going to legitimise it.” Aha! It’s “the too stupid to be a crook defence”. Although Graham did go on to call the whole process “a crock” as well, just to keep on track.

With all of this, next Wednesday is going to be fascinating, entertaining, and horrifying, all in one.

One final note. On Tuesday, in an off-cycle election, Democrats gained majorities in both houses of the Virginia state legislature as well as the governorship of Kentucky, the virtual archetype of a Republican red state. For Republican politicians, results like these may be harbingers of the grief that may come to them from embracing an increasingly out-of-control president. DM


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