Impeaching Trump – How a Phone Call Became Political Dynamite

5 mins read

By Aadhithya Prakash

On December 18th, 2019, a good twenty years since Bill Clinton was impeached from his office for lying to investigators about his affair, the sitting President of the United States was formally impeached by the US House of Representatives on two counts: Abuse of power and Obstruction of Congress. Put in simple terms, impeachment empowers the American Legislature to remove a high-ranking civil officer from office, even the President. The idea of impeachment was meant to keep Presidents in check, a reminder that they are not kings. As we now wait for the GOP-controlled Senate to try and eventually exonerate him, here is a quick look back at the events that led us here.

It all began on August 26th 2019 when an intelligence official secretly filed an anonymous “whistleblower” complaint, alleging that the President had used the power of his office to solicit a foreign country to interfere in the upcoming American Presidential Elections. The whistleblower claimed that Donald Trump, along with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was trying to get Ukraine to launch an enquiry into ex-Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s major political rivals, and his son Hunter Biden. The whistleblower also noted that key White House Officials, such as Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and the American Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland were either aware of or were part of the scheme by the President, one that US National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly called “a drug deal”.  Just under a month later, the House of Representatives, announced an official impeachment inquiry. 

What is the whistleblower complaint about? 

The whistleblower had enough reason to believe that President Trump was withholding Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine for his own personal or political motives. The whistleblower alleged that the President and his emissaries made it clear to the Ukrainians that they would get neither the aid, nor the White House meeting with President Trump unless and until Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, announced  an enquiry into corruption by Burisma, a company that Hunter Biden worked for during the Obama Administration. The intention was to use the corruption allegations by Ukraine to smear Joe Biden’s name during the Presidential Race. Trump emissaries, specifically Gordon Sondland and Rudy Giuliani, were key figures in the whole scheme since they were responsible for communicating Trump’s demandsto Zelensky.

On September 11, a couple of weeks later, Politico published an article about the military aid being put on hold by the President. Amid increasing tensions among National Security officials on either side and, coincidentally, just days after the Intelligence Community Inspector General had notified the White House of the existence of a whistleblower complaint, the aid was finally released, but by then, it was too late.

What is Donald Trump’s defense? 

The President’s first defense was releasing a transcript of a phone call that he had with Zelensky.  The President claims that he asked Ukraine to look into corruption allegedly perpetrated by Burisma, an Ukrainian energy company. 

After six days of public hearings and multiple TV interviews, it would appear that the GOP’s defense strategy is four-pronged:

To start with, they claim that there was no quid-pro-quo with regard to the foreign aid, because the aid was eventually released on time. 

Furthermore, the President and the GOP accuse the witnesses of being Democrats, and “never-Trumpers” and claim that they are therefore out to get him.

Thirdly, the Republicans claim that the testimonies provided by as many as seventeen witnesses, was just “hearsay” and “presumption”, and hence cannot be used as “evidence”. 

Finally, when all of the above failed, they would resort to smearing the first-hand witnesses in an effort to belittle their testimonies.

Dissecting the defense

The transcript itself has a disclaimer on it that specifically states it is not verbatim. Furthermore, for all the President’s claims about being concerned about the corruption perpetrated by Burisma, it is quite strange that the President did not mention the name “Burisma” at any point in his phone call. Conversely, the one name that he did mention more often than once was “Joe Biden”. As for the GOP’s defense, it is pretty weak if your only excuse for being innocent is the fact that you didn’t succeed in committing the crime. Moving on to their most crucial prong of defense, it is indeed true that most of the witness statements were based on second-hand information, and would qualify as “hearsay evidence”. 

However, it is important to define “hearsay” here. Hearsay is using a second-hand account as testimony, such as saying “I heard A tell me that B told him he committed a crime”. Here, the President himself has refused to testify, and has blocked Whitehouse staff from testifying as well. As a result, some of the witness testimonies were in fact hearsay, second hand accounts of conversations. However, since no one who could have potentially refuted the hearsay evidence testified, it is justifiable to allow such second-hand testimony into evidence in place of first hand testimony.

The facts

The President himself confessed on live TV to reporters that he wanted Ukraine to “investigate Joe Biden”.

Mick Mulvaney admitted, again on live TV, that there was indeed a quid pro quo.

Gordon Sondland acknowledged that there was a quid pro quo, at least with regards to the White House meeting with President Zelensky so badly sought. Sondland also made it clear that everyone named in the whistleblower’s complaint was in the loop with regards to what the President was trying to get Ukraine to do for him, thus validating it even further.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, who were both listening in on the call, testified before the House that it was indeed “inappropriate”. Lt. Col. Vindman also revealed that he reported it to the White House Counsel immediately. 

On November 21st, 2019, the last day of the public impeachment hearings, the former National Security Council Director Fiona Hill testified that she realized Gordon Sondland was carrying out a “domestic political errand” on behalf of the President, one which was not a part of “US National Security Foreign Policy”. She also debunked the Republican conspiracy theories that Ukraine was behind the tampering in the 2016 Presidential Election. 

Facts aside, it seems peculiar for an innocent man to refuse to testify at a hearing. It is even more baffling as to why Trump blocked key witnesses such as Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton from testifying before the House, considering that, if his narrative were indeed true, they would prove his innocence beyond all doubt. 

What’s next?

Judging by the vote distribution in the House, it seems likely that there is only one way the Senate Trial will go. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has gone on record saying that he not be an “impartial juror” at the Trial , and went on to state that he would be coordinating everything with the White House. To put this into perspective, this is similar to a Jury foreman saying before a murder trial that he will be coordinating with the accused during the trial. The Senators are expected to act as jurors in the impeachment trial, which will decide whether or not Donald Trump continues to be the President. McConnell is also refusing to coordinate with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who is pressing for a fair and impartial trial with witnesses and documents from the White House.

Cover photo: Gage Skidmore

Aadhithya Prakash is currently working as a supply chain professional in Canada. He has two modes: total involvement or total indifference, there is no middle-ground. He spends his free time crushing his opponents on FIFA 20 or binging the latest show on Netflix. The one thing he hates most is ignorance, and hopes to use this platform to enlighten people.

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