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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/5/19

Trump's Stonewalling of Impeachment Inquiry Is an Impeachable Offense

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The call summary quotes Trump telling Zelensky, "Whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it.... It sounds horrible to me." The ellipses indicate that some text was omitted from the summary.

Additional evidence of Trump pressuring Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and 2016 election in exchange for military assistance to Ukraine and a Zelensky visit to Washington has emerged.

On October 3, during his interview with House investigators, Kurt Volker, former State Department envoy to Ukraine, produced a cache of text messages that document a quid pro quo exchange. In a text sent on the morning of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, Volker texted Zelensky's aide: "heard from White House assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington."

On August 9, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland texted Volker: "I think potus [President of the United States] really wants the deliverable." Sondland mentioned that Zelensky may hold a news conference and announce his intent to investigate.

On September 9, U.S. Charges D'affaires in Ukraine William B. "Bill" Taylor texted Sondland, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Taylor complained that the decision to withhold congressionally approved military assistance to Ukraine had already led to a "nightmare scenario."

"Impeachable misconduct entails a president's serious abuse of power and a serious abuse of public trust," University of North Carolina Law professor Michael Gerhardt told the Los Angeles Times. "President Trump's call did both of those things. It was an abuse of power because he used his position to benefit himself and not the country. It was a breach of trust because Americans trust their president not to engage in self-dealing, either through steering businesses to line their own pockets or through conspiring with or coordinating with foreign powers to intervene in American elections."

Abuse of power was one of the articles of impeachment filed against Nixon, for, among other things, conspiring to cover up his role in the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

Evidence of Obstruction of Justice

In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire admitted that Inspector General Atkinson reached a "sound conclusion" that the whistleblower was credible and acted in good faith. "I believe the whistleblower did the right thing and followed the law every step of the way," Maguire told the committee.

But instead of forwarding the complaint to Congress as required by the Whistleblower Protection Act when the Inspector General finds the complaint raises an "urgent concern," Maguire went to the White House and the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Overseen by Attorney General William Barr, himself implicated in the scandal, the OLC determined that the whistleblower's complaint did not raise an "urgent concern" and advised Maguire that he had no duty to send the complaint to Congress. Although the White House was considering invoking executive privilege, in the face of public outrage, Trump decided to release the complaint.

The whistleblower also alleged a cover-up of the transcript of the July 25 call:

"White House officials told me that they were 'directed' by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials. Instead, the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective."

"Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo was reportedly on the call when the President pressed Ukraine to smear his political opponent. If true, Secretary Pompeo is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry. He should immediately cease intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President.

"Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress -- including State Department employees -- is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistleblower complaint."

Obstruction of justice was one of the articles of impeachment filed against both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Nixon resigned before being impeached. Clinton was impeached by the House for lying under oath to cover up his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but was acquitted in the Senate.

Trump Lashes Out

Trump was surprised at the firestorm surrounding the Ukraine call. "It's a joke," he said. "Impeachment for that?" Trump couldn't understand why impeachment was now being pursued. "I thought we won," he said of the Mueller report's findings. "I thought it was dead, it was dead."

But it is not surprising that Trump, who cannot abide any criticism without launching a defensive tweetstorm, would strike out at members of Congress participating in the impeachment investigation. Indeed, Trump accused Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff of treason on Twitter. Although the crime of treason requires giving aid or comfort to the enemy during war time, Trump often accuses his political opponents of treason.

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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