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General News    H4'ed 10/15/19

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, True Crimes and Misdemeanors

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"In his capacity as President of the United States... Donald John Trump has with his statements done more than insult individuals and groups of Americans, he has harmed the society of the United States, brought shame and dishonor to the office of President of the United States, sowing discord among the people of the United States by associating the majesty and dignity of the presidency with causes rooted in white supremacy, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, white nationalism, or neo-Nazism on one or more of the following occasions..."

The resolution goes on to list a number of Trump's racist interventions, including calling some of the white supremacists and neo-Nazi protestors who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia (and one of whom murdered counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer by driving his car into a crowd), "very fine people"; sharing on social media anti-Muslim videos originally posted by Britain First, a minor English far-right party; attempting to prevent Muslims from entering the U.S. by executive order; attacking professional football players for taking a knee during the national anthem; accusing Puerto Ricans of throwing the U.S. "budget out of whack" in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma; and insulting Representative Frederica Wilson, an African American congresswoman, by calling her "wacky."

The House has repeatedly rebuffed Green's efforts, most recently in July 2019, when it voted 332-95 to table the measure, effectively killing it.

What a difference a couple of months can make.

Impeachment Fever Rising

As anyone who's been paying attention knows, even with a 54% majority in the House of Representatives, the Democratic leadership has long resisted calls to impeach the president, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi did a masterful job restraining the party's left wing. Whatever I thought of her position on impeachment then, I had to admire her consummate parliamentary skills. She happens to represent my congressional district, so I've been a Pelosi-watcher ever since I worked for her opponent in her first congressional primary in 1987.

Impeachment advocates had hoped this would change with the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the report did document numerous presidential efforts to obstruct the inquiry, the special counsel declined to speculate on the question of Trump's guilt, arguing that Justice Department rulings prohibit the indictment of a sitting president. Nevertheless, in his first public statement, Mueller made it clear that his team's work did not exonerate the president: "If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

With their eyes on the 2020 election season, however, Democratic Party centrists continued to argue that, because Trump would inevitably survive a trial in the Republican-dominated Senate, impeachment was a futile exercise. Worse, it might well stir up the president's base and so improve his chances of reelection.

That all changed this August with a whistleblower's revelation that the president had used a July 25th telephone call to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. At the time, Trump had, without explanation, also frozen $391 million in U.S. military aid previously appropriated by Congress to help Ukraine resist separatists and their Russian allies fighting on its territory.

Under pressure, the White House released a two-page synopsis of the call, thinking that this would calm things down. It had the opposite effect. In that document, which is not quite a transcript and might not be complete, Zelensky, a comedian elected president after playing that very role in a popular TV series, told Trump that Ukraine was "almost ready to buy more Javelins [U.S. anti-tank missiles] from the United States for defense purposes."

Trump responded, "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. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike..." (The ellipsis, which may or may not represent missing material, marks the end of his sentence.) Trump was referring to a discredited conspiracy theory in which a supposedly missing Democratic National Committee computer server, hacked by Russia during election 2016 according to the Mueller investigation, ended up in Ukraine. (There is, in fact, no missing server, here or in Ukraine.)

Later, Trump asked Zelensky to look into a previous Ukrainian government's ousting of prosecutor Viktor Shokin for corruption. Specifically, he wanted his counterpart to check out the theory that then-Vice President Joe Biden engineered Shokin's dismissal to protect his son, Hunter, who then held a seat on the board of Burisma, a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch that was under investigation. It seems clear that Shokin really was corrupt and that Joe Biden's role in his ouster was unremarkable. (It seems equally clear, as Matthew Yglesias writes at Vox, that the younger Biden "had no apparent qualifications for the job," which paid up to $50,000 a month, "except that his father was the vice president and involved in the Obama administration's Ukraine policy.")

Finally, Donald Trump had done something bad enough -- strong-arming a foreign leader into digging up dirt on a likely Democratic Party presidential candidate -- to convince the House leadership to initiate impeachment proceedings. Trump had already openly called on Russia to release 33,000 supposedly missing Hillary Clinton emails during the 2016 election. He had now invited a second country to interfere in U.S. elections and then tripled down by publicly asking China to do the same. All of this should be enough to demonstrate that the president has violated his oath of office on multiple occasions. ITMFA.

High(er) Crimes and Misdemeanors

Extorting political favors is bad enough, but Donald J. Trump has done so much worse, even if his true highest crimes and misdemeanors aren't ever likely to make it into the Articles of Impeachment finally sent to the Senate. These, to my mind, would include:

* Violating U.S. responsibilities toward refugees under international humanitarian law as defined in treaties and conventions this country long ago signed and ratified: In his behavior towards asylum-seekers and other migrants at our southern border, Trump, who began his 2015 election campaign by denouncing Mexicans as "drug dealers, criminals, and rapists," has as president turned his back on decades of international consensus on the rights of refugees. He, of course, oversaw an administration that instituted a cruel policy of family separation of undocumented immigrants, causing thousands of children to be cut off from their parents. He also allowed such children to be held for weeks in stinking, filthy cages near the U.S. border.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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