For months, Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has been shuttling between the U.S. and Ukraine in an effort to find some official—and almost anyone will apparently work—who will go along with a conspiracy theory that says Joe Biden threatened the U.S. relationship with the Eastern European nation unless they did a favor for his son. But this week, The Washington Post reported that, while the Biden story was clearly nonsense, there is a genuine attempt to extort a political favor underway. By Trump.
On Thursday, the Post editorial board talked about the difficulties facing the new, pro-Western government of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky. In addition to a systematic effort to rip out the past government’s corruption and deal with the continued presence of Russian forces fighting in the country under the thin pretense of a “rebellion,” Zelensky has to deal with another major opponent. Trump has snubbed the Ukrainian leader, breaking with the effort to support the nation that’s been the rule in Washington since Ukraine peeled away from the crumbling Soviet Union. Not only has Trump refused to have Zelensky at the White House, he has suspended delivery of an already-approved $250 million package of military aid that Ukraine desperately needs.
While this may just be seen as another sign of Trump’s refusal to do anything that might possibly anger Russian leader Vladimir Putin, there is, almost unbelievably, and even worse reason why Trump is placing the fate of a democratic nation at risk. He is, according to sources that the Post deems reliable, attempting to extort Zelensky into framing Biden.
Even though Russia is already all-in to support Trump in 2020, just as they were in 2016, Trump apparently doesn’t feel that’s enough to see him through. He’s directly interfering in the security of an allied nation in an attempt to force that country to involve itself in a U.S. election.
It’s the kind of thing that, all on it’s own, would be more than worthy of impeachment. If we still did impeachment.
Earlier, it seemed that Giuliani had found just the right fish to produce a story for Trump. In a hit piece that was reported by The New York Times, Giuliani claimed that Biden had leaned on Ukraine to drop a prosecutor in order to protect a company that employed his son. From the beginning, it was clear that the right-wing conspiracy theorists had the story backwards. The prosecutor that Biden mentioned in a 2016 speech was not only notoriously corrupt, he had already cleared the company at which Hunter Biden was collecting a salary. There was no prosecution to be stopped. In fact, Biden went after that prosecutor expressly because he kept dropping investigations into obvious crimes, so much so that other European allies complained to the United States specifically about that man.
But Giuliani claimed that he had located another prosecutor to back his story that Biden was protecting his son—a tale which the Times dutifully printed on page one. Unfortunately for Rudy, Trump, and the New York Times, the prosecutor who Giuliani got to speak up admitted just days later that there was “nothing to the claims” and that he was trying to show he could be “useful” to the Trump White House in the hopes it might land him a role in the new Ukrainian government. In fact, the same prosecutor Giuliani was touting as his source, had looked into the Biden matter years ago and determined that the story was baseless and there was nothing to investigate.
Offering to provide Trump with some Biden bashing did not earn the prosecutor a new role. In fact, incoming president Zelensky, who had run on an anti-corruption platform, made it a point to sack the man.
Then Trump made it a point to cut off aid to an entire nation, in what seems to be an obvious effort to force President Zelensky into joining in the smear of Biden.
All of this, from beginning to end, is an incredible example of misuse of power. Exactly the sort of thing that the threat of impeachment is supposed to protect against.
- Giuliani has claimed to be traveling to Ukraine openly, on the pretense that is going as “a private citizen.” However, he has been briefed by, and is working with, officials in the Trump State Department to get inside information on Ukrainian officials and approaches to getting what he wants. And, of course, Giuliani is employed by Trump.
- Not only has Giuliani made promises to Ukrainian officials in exchange for cooperating in framing Biden with a false story, he set up a direct phone call between Donald Trump and the prosecutor who offered to tell such a story Giuliani so Trump could express his gratitude.
- When Giuliani’s efforts to meet with other officials in Ukraine were cut off by the election of a new, anti-corruption government, Giuliani met with an Ukranian official in Madrid to warn that an investigation into Biden needed to be reopened.
- Giuliani has also been attempting to find someone in Ukraine to say that Paul Manafort was innocent and that the investigation into Trump’s campaign manager initiated in that country was done to help Hillary Clinton. To do this, Giuliani has been talking to former officials of the pro-Russian government that Manafort helped to install.
- Trump suspended aid to Ukraine “for review” even though that review is already complete.
Donald Trump is directly, blatantly holding the defense of an allied nation hostage to his effort to get what he wants against Biden. Trump knows there is no real story there. Giuliani knows it very well. They don’t care about the fire, smoke will do.
But in his effort to create a story that Joe Biden placed undue pressure on a U.S. ally, Trump and Giuliani are doing far worse than anything that Biden might have done in the wildest versions of their fantasies. And the whole thing does help Putin … bonus points for that.
There is more than enough in the Ukraine story to bring Giuliani up on charges of extorting and bribing foreign officials. And there’s more than enough on this story alone, to justify an impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.
One final note: It’s astounding the lengths to which Trump and Giuliani are going to plant a false story against Biden when Biden is far from assured the Democratic nomination. It’s almost as if they can’t conceive of anyone winning but the older white man.