Ukraine affair could see the end of Donald Trump|Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Ukraine affair could see the end of Donald Trump

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Donald Trump. File/ AFP

The launch by US Democrats of a long-overdue impeachment investigation into the current occupant of the White House has also resulted in a scandal which could force their leading presidential candidate to stand down. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are caught in the tightly woven web of Ukranian corruption and US influence peddling.

In a bid to harm Biden, Trump’s pressured that country’s newly elected president to resume closed corruption investigations of a Ukrainian natural gas company which had appointed to its board of directors Hunter Biden, the former vice-president’s son. For leverage, Trump suspended $391 in military aid to Ukraine which is fighting a Russian-backed insurgency.  Trump offered the Ukrainian authorities the assistance of the US Justice Department which is headed by loyalist William Barr.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who does not have high level security clearance, involved serving diplomats.  Kurt Volker, special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordan Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, acted as intermediaries between Giulani and the Ukrainians. Volker has resigned. The US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was denigrated by Trump in a call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and ordered home because she was disloyal: she disagreed with Trump.

The House of Representatives intelligence committee has already subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, requiring him to produce documents and a list of witnesses that could provide detailed evidence on Trump’s efforts to smear Joe Biden. Hearings are scheduled for this week. Trump, Barr, and Guiliani could be charged under laws dealing with campaign finance, bribery, extortion and obstruction of justice.

If the House gathers the evidence it requires, Trump could become the fourth US president to face impeachment. Although no one has actually been convicted of high crimes and misdemeanours, one, Richard Nixon resigned before votes in both the House and the Senate would have impeached him.

Trump risks impeachment because a so far unidentified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) whistleblower has released credible information on the “Ukraine Affair.”  The whistleblower accuses Trump of “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 US election.” The whistleblower submitted an official, legal complaint based on information provided to him or her “in the course of official interagency business” and argues Trump’s action constitute a threat to US national security.

The whistleblower and other non-White House officials received a “readout” of the call which provided evidence for the revelations. In a bid to cover up the effort to pressure Ukraine, Trump’s staff secreted transcripts of the phone call in a covert action server in a separate room from the server used to record routine telephone calls from Trump to other world leaders.  Also under tight controls are conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Trump’s “China whisperer.” The latter Trump, reportedly, asked to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden’s business dealings in that country.

In a commentary for CNN, Freda Ghitis tried to explain why Trump appealed to Ukraine for help in besmirching Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of next year’s election. She contends that Trump has been under constant investigation since Russia interfered in his favour in the 2016 contest. In her view, he suffers from hubris, or excessive self-confidence, due to the fact that he is surrounded by sycophants and cheerleaders and does not tolerate criticism or obstruction.  So far, Republicans have been prepared to support him despite his outrageous tweets or declarations and harmful actions.  She wrote, “Trump has come to believe he is so brilliant, so talented, so invincible, that he could get away with defying every norm, every practice, every institution of the democracy he is charged with leading.”

While infected with hubris, Trump has also shown himself to be deeply insecure: the combination of these two competing personality traits makes him erratic and constantly on the defensive.

The tragedy of US democracy is that Trump’s staff who have defied or curbed him are no longer in the White House. Furthermore, the Republican party is too afraid of him to stand against him as he steers an increasingly wayward course while his “base” continues to support him whatever he does. The Republican majority in the Senate is likely to vote against impeachment, preventing it from happening, but Trump will inevitably be damaged by a majority vote in the House as well as revelations in the process of gathering evidence needed for impeachment.

There is no comparison between Trump’s behaviour and the actions of Joe Biden who may not have broken any laws.  But Biden may not be entirely innocent of impropriety. In April 2014, during the chaos following the collapse of the corrupt pro-Russian Ukrainian government, Hunter Biden joined the board of directors of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas firm.  Chris Heinz, stepson of former US Secretary of State John Kerry, warned that this was a bad move and ceased working with Hunter Biden who remained on the Burisma board until May 2019.

Sarah Chayes, author of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens National Security,” writing in The Atlantic, observed that Hunter Biden’s only qualification was his relationship to his father, who “was comfortably into his second term as vice president.” In her aptly entitled article, “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption,” she pointed out that “in those days… insiders in a gas-rich kleptocracy could exploit [the situation] using Western ‘advisers’ to facilitate and legitimise their plunder [while] Westerners could profit handsomely from it.”

At the time the younger Biden joined Burisma, the company was being probed by British courts for corruption.  In 2016, the US government, via Joe Biden, and other Western governments called on Ukraine to dismiss a public prosecutor for being too lenient over corruption allegations.

While other prominent US citizens also joined Burisma, Hunter Biden alone was the son of a senior US official and should have considered whether it was ethically appropriate for him to sit on the board of a company which had been investigated for corruption by the authorities in a wildly corrupt country and Britain.  While Joe Biden – the Obama administration’s anti-corruption crusader — says he does not discuss his son’s business activities, he should have done. Chayes argued that Joe Biden also “enabled” corruption in another case by permitting Hunter Biden to fly to China on Air Force Two while on a vice presidential visit to China.  “Within days” he joined the board of a company with investments in China.

Since other articles exposing Hunter Biden’s opportunistic career have appeared in The Washington Post, The Hill, The New Yorker and broadcast media, he is unlikely to escape censure without damaging his father.

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