Although the impeachment inquiry is cloaked in legalese — such as whether Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense — it’s also about the relationship between Trump, and his associates, and Ukraine. There is a counterintelligence aspect: Trump was trying to manipulate the Ukrainian government on multiple fronts.
The Crime: There are two pivotal documents in this matter. The first is the “Unclassified Memorandum of [Juy 25th] Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ). Early in this conversation, Trump says: “We do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing.” Zelensky says, “We are almost. ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United· States” and Trump responds, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”
The second pivotal document is the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html) In this memo the whistleblower says that during the July 25th phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to do three things:
- “initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
- assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and
- meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”
Three things jump out of these documents. The first is there was a quid pro quo. Trump mentions aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor.” Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/201), which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.
The second thing that jumps out is the sequence of the ask: first Trump asks for assistance in “uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine;” and then he asks for helps investigating the Bidens. It’s clear from the memorandum of the July 25th telephone conversation that the former is what’s on Trump’s mind — he spends more time talking about it.
The third thing that jumps out is that Trump goes out of his way to malign the previous U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news… she’s going to go through some things.”
Ukraine and Paul Manafort: What lurks in the background is the unsavory relationship between Trump, and his associates, and sketchy characters in Ukraine. This relationship first became apparent in June of 2016, when Trump hired (former Ukraine) political operative Paul Manafort as his campaign manager. Manafort served in this position for three months, resigning in August of 2016. During this period — which included the Republican convention — three significant event happened: Manafort was part of the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents; Manafort intervened to weaken a Ukraine policy item in the Republican platform; and Manafort’s connection to former former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, and his for-Russian party, was revealed to the American press. (In addition, the Mueller report noted that, during this period, Manafort passed proprietary campaign polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainians.)
On October 30, 2017, Manafort was arrested by the FBI after being indicted by a federal grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation.The indictment charged Manafort with conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as an agent of a foreign country, and making false statements. In March of 2018, Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in Federal prison.
Many have reported that Manafort maintains contact with Trump. Recently released Mueller documents reveal that, in 2016, Manafort told Trump that he thought Ukrainians had been responsible for hacking the DNC during the presidential campaign. (https://www.alternet.org/2019/11/paul-manafort-pushed-ukraine-conspiracy-theory-on-trump-during-the-2016-campaign-mueller-documents/?) Whatever the reason, Trump has long nurtured resentment towards Ukraine (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/for-trump-ukraine-is-a-story-of-personal-resentment-and-political-opportunism/2019/10/04/a256eb70-e6d8-11e9-a6e8-8759c5c7f608_story.html).
Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani: The “memorandum of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky phone call” makes it clear that Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s man in Ukraine. Trump encouraged Zelensky to talk to Attorney General Barr and Rudy G. There’s some (baroque) logic to the involvement of Barr — he’s leading an investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation. But there’s no clear logic to Giuliani’s involvement.
Rudy G has been involved in Ukraine for couple of years. He’s worked as a U.S. lobbyist for Ukrainian businessmen and he’s tried to get American companies lucrative Ukrainian contracts. Giuliani was part of a small group that, apparently, worked outside the U.S. State Department to influence the government of Ukraine. One member of this group was Trump-donor turned Ambassador-to-the-EU, Gordon Sondland. Another member was Energy Secretary Rick Perry. (Recently the Wall Street Journal noted that, “Rick Perry wanted to put two U.S. energy industry veterans on the board of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, according to text messages written by the former Ukraine special envoy.”) Giuliani also has ties with controversial Ukrainian Oligarch Dmytro Firtash (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/10/how-an-indicted-oligarch-became-a-key-player-in-trumps-ukraine-scandal/ ).
Giuliani pushed for the replacement of U.S.Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. On November 7th, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told the House Intelligence Committee: “Throughout March 02019], Giuliani trafficked in ‘slander’ designed to get… Marie Yovanovitchhas fired from her posting in Kyiv and clear a roadblock to the agenda Giuliani and his clients were pursuing there.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trumps-demands-of-ukraine-came-down-to-three-words-investigations-biden-and-clinton-officials-testimony-shows/2019/11/07/d5ffab54-0197-11ea-8bab-0fc209e065a8_story.html ) Now Rudy’s activities are under investigation by Manhattan-based Federal Prosecutors (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/us/politics/rudy-giuliani-investigation.html ).
Summary: There are four part of this affair. First, Trump came into the White House with animosity towards Ukraine. Second, Trump did not trust the State Department to manage relations with Ukraine so he commissioned Rudy Giuliani to represent him with President Zelensky. Third, Giuliani and Trump deliberately withheld much needed Ukrainian military aid in order to coerce Zelensky into launching two investigations: possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden. Fourth, Giuliani and (no doubt) Trump conspired to have Ambassador Yovanovitch removed from her position.
And, of course, Trump has abused his position by not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.