The Trump Impeachment Hearings: A Bad Soap Opera

impeach trump protest sign ap img  by Mario Alexis Portella

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by Mario Alexis Portella

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U.S. House Impeachment Hearings – (Photo: AP)

It has barely been a week since the U.S. Congressional impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump began, and the only thing I can say is, what a ghastly performance it has been. The hearings, as 24-year State Department veteran Peter Van Buren said: “[are] the latest public spectacle un-ironically displaces daytime soap operas, the picture is starting to become clearer. The people testifying aren’t there to save America. They are a group of neo-somethings inside the administration who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policy and decided to derail it.”

The drama is based on President Donald Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call to Ukraine’s newly-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump had asked Zelensnky to investigate then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s lucrative post with the corrupt Burisma oil and gas company in 2014 in Kiev where he made $165.5 million; Trump’s argument is that Joe Biden had tried to damage his election campaign in 2016 and wanted to root out corruption. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is trying to prove that there was a quid pro quo when Trump said, “I hope you can do us a favor, though,” which would constituted an impeachable offense of “misconduct” or “abuse or violation” of “public trust,” given that as presented, the statement comes right after Zelensky indicated he wanted the U.S. President to release frozen funds to help the Ukrainians fend off Russian separatists.

The impeachment hearing testimonials have thus far come from second-or-third hand witnesses who have produced uncorroborated evidence based on hearsay and recollected memory, some of it retracted, in an effort to support what America’s newest icon, the “whistleblower,” provided. This was highlighted yesterday by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and by an earlier testimonial by National Security Council aide Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman.

Sondland testified that he had a “direct order” from the president to urge Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit the president politically; he said that there was a “quid pro quo” between a White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president. Aside that he had been blocked access to certain records, Sondland circumvented questions, even contradicting his testimony affirming that he had never been told that the “[monetary] aid was tied to political investigations[.]”

Alexander Vindman’s testimonial seemed to be equally implausible. Prior to testifying, he had declared that the president had underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity — within its internationally recognized borders — and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption. Yet during his testimony before Congress, Vindman “clarified” that the Trump did not bring up the topic rooting out corruption during the phone call, but he included it in his summary of the call anyway.

There is one important factor that has been bypassed in this Washington tear-jerker that could make the hearings look like a pandemic mirage: the money transaction to the Ukraine from the U.S. that had already taken place prior to the July 25 phone call.

Again, the accusation is that the U.S. President held up frozen funds to help the Ukrainians fend off Russian separatists in exchange for information. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Defense, the truth of the matter is the “sought after” monetary aid, $391.5 million to be specific, was spent on time, according to law, before, during, and after the July 25 call stemming from Ukrainian reforms as shown in a May 23,  2019 letter from John C. Rood to Congress; this certification was only necessary to release the second $125-million tranche — click here to read the letter.  The tables therein refer to that $125 million as “Tranche 2.” So what happened to the first $125 million?  It was already spent on Ukraine before the July 25 phone call with Zelensky.

On February 28 Rood wrote to Congress about the first $125 million. He informed Congress the Pentagon was going ahead with this money for Ukraine. It was spent by July to defend the country from Russian aggression. This is the real reason why neither Zelensky nor any other Ukraine official knew that assistance was “held up.”  As reported by The Wall Street Journal on March 11, 2019, the funds were was flowing freely to the Ukrainians, never subject to President Trump’s subterfuge:

“The U.S. is channeling support to Ukraine’s navy to help counter Russian efforts to choke its neighbor’s economy and destabilize its pro-Western government by blocking access to ports. U.S. training and equipment have helped strengthen Ukraine’s army in its five-year conflict with Russia, but the fresh U.S. focus reflects concern over the Kremlin’s new maritime efforts to halt Ukraine’s westward integration and keep Russia’s sphere of influence.”

One may call it “Fake news,” but as Ren Jander says “the award for most deceptive publication of an impeachment-destroying fact must go to the wonderful folks at the Associated Press.” On September 27, 2019 the AP published the following:

“Rood, in his letter, noted that ‘there remain areas that require significant attention’ by Ukraine, and that the United States remains committed to helping its ‘multi-year effort,’ suggesting that fighting corruption was seen as a long-term project. He had notified Congress in February that the Pentagon was going ahead with the first $125 million in security assistance. By law, certification of Ukraine’s progress against corruption and in defense reforms was required before the second $125 million in aid could be provided.”

The Pentagon began spending the first tranche upon Rood’s February 28th letter to Congress, and the $125 million was spent by July. The AP article also notes that only the second tranche required Department of Defense certification.  But what wins AP the aforementioned deception award is the first sentence of this same report: “President Donald Trump has said [bolded for emphasis] he withheld nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine because of corruption in the country…” The key word above is “said.”  The president did not do what the AP claims the president said he did.

The statute authorizing security assistance requires Ukraine to crack down on corruption so our money doesn’t end up in the pockets of oligarchs.  It mandates: “The certification described in this paragraph … by the Secretary of Defense … that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms … for purposes of decreasing corruption … and sustaining improvements of combat capability … shall include an assessment of the substantial actions taken to make such defense institutional reforms and the areas in which additional action is needed[.]”

Thus far the lawmakers, let along the Americans who are glued to this soap opera, are in the least bit concerned with the aforementioned, to say nothing of the most popular yet unknown pop-star: the whistleblower. And until the American people hear from him (or her), the impeachment entertainment will make America laughable before both national and international viewers.

How the whistleblower came to be at the ground zero of electoral politics will tell us whether this is a legitimate impeachment or a political assassination. The popular impression is that men like the whistleblower, former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Bill Taylor — there are suspicions that he is the whistleblower — and Alex Vindman are non-partisan, and there is some truth to that. As Van Buren states:

“They came up through a system that strongly emphasized service to the president, whomever that is. But it would be equally wrong to claim that they are policy agnostic; in fact, they are quite the opposite. They see themselves as experts who know better. That’s why they were hired, and under Obama their advice (for better or worse, they wanted to bring us to war with Russia) was generally followed… But it appears they came to see Trump as not just wrong but dangerous [having America’s favorite knucklehead Rudy Giuliani work for you would be enough to encourage this]. Add in some taint of self-interest on Trump’s part, and he became evil. [Both Taylor and Vindman] convinced themselves it was a matter of conscience, and wrapped their opposition in the flagged courage of a (created?) whistleblower. Certainly if one hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.”

Until the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives comes up with an “ace up their sleeve” — and perhaps they have it — to prove that President Trump did in fact commit an impeachable offense, the hearings  will continue to be a partisan soap opera, which is the last thing the American nation needs. This is what Alexander Hamilton had warned would be the “greatest danger” to the country — the decision to move forward with impeachment will “be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” He worried that the tools of impeachment would be wielded by the “most cunning or most numerous factions” and lack the “requisite neutrality toward those whose conduct would be the subject of scrutiny.”

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