Ukraine scandal involves a trifecta of unconstitutional Trump abuses
Trump talks with Giuliani at a fundraising event in New York. Seth Wenig/AP

The impeachment of a U.S. president for the fourth time in history is more serious than any of the three that have gone before it. This time there is before the American people proof that Donald Trump is guilty of a trifecta of “high crimes and misdemeanors” stipulated in the Constitution as impeachable offenses.

He has abused the power of the presidency, he has failed to execute the laws of the nation and he has obstructed both Congress and justice itself. In this triple attack on democracy he has tried to unravel the basic institutions we rely upon to preserve our democracy.

This is the meaning of a report released this week by the House Intelligence Committee – a documentation of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by the White House occupant and aided and abetted by officials across several agencies and branches of government.

This is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an address to the nation this morning, declared that Congress is now on a path to impeach and remove the president. She has asked the House Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment.

The report, just the tip of the iceberg of Trump’s criminality, serves as a warning of the magnitude of the threat posed to the American people. “We do not intend to delay when the integrity of the next election is still at risk,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

The report presents overwhelming evidence that Trump bribed Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump demanded Zelensky announce an investigation into allegations Ukraine officials aided Hilary Clinton in the 2016 elections by sabotaging the Trump campaign, and the Democratic National Committee spirited a hacked computer server to Ukraine for safekeeping. Trump also demanded the Ukrainians “dig up dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The demands were considered things of “value,” required in exchange for the release of $392 million in U.S. military assistance. The money was only released when the conspiracy came to light.

Zelensky and his government were never expected to prove anything because Trump knows there is nothing to prove. Trump’s insistence on a Biden investigation is clear proof that the GOP is lying when they claim Trump’s purpose was to make sure money would not go to Ukraine unless they could prove they were dealing with “corruption.”

Zelensky needed only to “announce” the investigations. Trump, his henchmen, and the right-wing media spin machine would take it from there.

They aimed to create a counter-narrative to the conclusions of the Mueller investigation that Russian ruling circles and intelligence agencies interfered in the 2016 elections on Trump’s side. They aimed to create a narrative that obscured Trump collusion with a foreign power to help his campaign. The narrative they wanted had to support Trump’s claim that it was all a “Democratic hoax” and “witch hunt.” The narrative had to at least muddy the waters enough to defraud voters in the 2020 elections.

The demands on Zelensky of what to investigate hew thoroughly to debunked conspiracy theories, theories even the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee has dismissed. But the lies continue to have legs because Trump, Giuliani, and the right-wing media continue to spread them, along with the anti-Semitic trope that George Soros is the mastermind and controls parts of the State Department and FBI.

Since an intelligence official working in the White House first blew the whistle on the scheme, Trump and his cohorts have engaged in total coverup and obstruction. Obstruction, perjury, destruction of evidence, and witness tampering also hampered the Mueller investigation.

The criminal scheme – an assault on the truth and the constitutional separation of powers – might have succeeded were it not for the courage of career civil servants who stood up to Trump and told the truth.

Trump and his ‘fixer’

Trump “fixer,” Rudy Giuliani, himself under investigation for campaign finance violations, failure to register as a foreign agent, and bribery, has orchestrated the scheme in concert with Trump. Vice President Pence, cabinet secretaries, and officials across the administration were involved, conspiring with some of the most corrupt officials and sordid gangsters in Ukraine. These include the indicted Ukrainian mobster Dmitry Firtash, a key backer of corrupt former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Giuliani enlisted Firtash by dangling the possibility of quashing his extradition to the U.S. to stand trial.

Firtash hired a Trump legal team spokesperson and lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who appear regularly on Fox News defending Trump and peddling what Fiona Hill called the “fictional narrative” of Ukrainian interference. The lawyers hired Giuliani’s hapless cohort, Lev Parnas, for “translation services.” Federal prosecutors have indicted Parnas on campaign financing violations.

Firtash provided Giuliani with a false narrative concerning his interactions with Mueller. Giuliani bundled it with a fraudulent affidavit from former Ukraine prosecutor Viktor Shokin that alleges then-Vice President Biden shut down an investigation into Burisma, the gas company on whose board of directors Hunter Biden sat.

The exposé of the scheme and debunked conspiracy theories have not deterred Giuliani. On Dec. 3, he brazenly went to Hungary to arrange interviews with another former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko and then Ukraine with Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, who had compiled a “dossier” on Hunter Biden. The interviews are being used in a massive disinformation campaign on right-wing media.

All three former prosecutors have in common being ousted for corruption and advancing claims supporting the fake conspiracy theories.

While we don’t know the details of Giuliani’s machinations there this week it is certainly likely that he may, at this point, be just as interested in saving his skin. He is likely working frantically to put in place the building blocks of his defense in the face of what could be his indictment.

One big scandal, multiple parts

As Seth Abramson argues, the Trump-Ukraine scandal is one part of the broader criminal collusion of the Trump campaign with ruling circles in Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 elections. The efforts to promote the Ukraine “fictional narrative” led by Giuliani began in 2018, which suggests Trump and his co-conspirators feared Special Counsel Robert Mueller would deliver a damning report.

Therefore, efforts to smear Biden, whom Trump considered his chief Democratic rival for the presidency, were secondary. Nevertheless, the scheme suggests Trump is engaged in a massive scheme to deceive the American public in his run-up to the 2020 elections.

And the conspiracy involving Ukraine was not the first time Trump solicited a bribe. In 2018, Trump demanded former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stop Ukraine’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation. In exchange, the U.S. would supply the country with Javelin missiles to fight its war with Russia.

It was only after Ukraine suddenly dropped its cooperation in April 2018, including gathering evidence on Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his work for Yanukovych, that the U.S. finally delivered the Javelin missiles in May. Manafort was instrumental in giving Yanukovych, an ex-con, an “image makeover” on his way to being elected president of Ukraine in 2010. Manafort has a long history of employing dirty tricks in election campaigns, an art he perfected with Roger Stone, recently convicted of lying to Congress and obstruction of justice with the Mueller investigation.

The effort to blame Ukraine for interference in the 2016 elections has a long history that dates back to the summer of 2016. Manafort first spread the lie while still campaign manager, desperate to cover up criminal acts that eventually landed him in jail, including hiding $12 million in secret payments for his work with Yanukovych. The Ukraine scheme is meant to exculpate Manafort from his crimes by discrediting the “black ledger” exposing the secret payments.

Trump was reportedly petrified that if Manafort “flipped,” and confessed to whatever he was involved in, it would take him down too. Perhaps, it has to do with Manafort giving one of his Ukrainian “business associates,” Konstantin V. Kilimnik, sensitive polling data from the Trump campaign and then lying about it to Mueller’s team.

In newly released testimony to the Mueller investigation, Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, said Manafort echoed Kilimnik’s assertion that Ukraine was responsible for election interference. According to a Mueller court filing, Kilimnik, who was also vital in changing the Ukrainian plank to the 2016 GOP convention platform, has ties to Russian intelligence agencies. Pinning the interference on Ukraine is thought to be part of the Russian disinformation campaign to cover their role in the election interference.

It was then Ukrainian prosecutor Lutsenko who allowed Kilimnik to slip into Russia to avoid being grilled by the Mueller legal team.

The “fiction” has been spread by the right-wing media beginning with the former vice president of The Hill, John Solomon, and Fox cable host Sean Hannity. Since then, Trump, Sen. John Kennedy, R.,La., Rep. Devin Nunes, senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and other administration and GOP elected officials have repeated the lie.

Nunes is himself implicated in the scheme with trips to Ukraine, and through recently released phone records that reveal coordination with Giuliani and Parnas. As then-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes attempted to thwart the Mueller and congressional investigations and secretly passed information to the White House.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If Trump and his corrupt cohorts succeed in their assault on democratic institutions, and what will assuredly be an enormous mass disinformation campaign to defraud the American people in the 2020 elections, then there is no telling where this authoritarian nightmare will go.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.