All the President’s Scandals

All the President’s Scandals

As Ukrainegate dominates headlines, Democrats need to make the case that Trump’s corruption goes much deeper.


The case for impeaching Donald Trump is rapidly gathering force with the flood of revelations overwhelming the news. Trump’s actions in Ukrainegate were shocking and are unusually well documented. But if impeachment is now a political necessity, it also carries with it real costs: The exclusive focus on Ukrainegate is sidelining other consequential and far-reaching scandals implicating Trump and the Republican Party.

On Thursday night, Democratic representatives leading the impeachment investigation released texts provided to them by Kurt D. Volker, the former special envoy for Ukraine. These texts substantiate the claim of a whistle-blower that President Trump pushed for a quid pro quo with President Volodymyr Zelensky: The Ukrainians would investigate Trump’s Democratic foes in exchange for military aid. The exchanges recorded are between Volker and two other major players: William B. Taylor Jr., the leading American diplomat in Ukraine and a career State Department official; and Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union. Sondland is a political appointee who received his position because he donated lavishly to Trump’s campaign. In their back-and-forth, Taylor is eager to get down in writing discussions of Ukrainian negotiations, while Sondland insists that conversations be done on phone.

In a text written on July 25, just hours before Trump had his notorious telephone conversation with Zelensky, Volker wrote to his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Yermak: “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.” Zelensky desperately wanted a White House visit as a way of shoring up his own position in his country. This text makes clear that the visit was offered to him in exchange for the investigation of Trump’s political foes.

The Ukrainians were aware of the nature of the deal they were making, including the need to investigate the Ukrainian business activities of Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son who sat on the board of an energy company called Burisma. In an August 10 text, Yermak wrote to Volker, “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.”

On September 1, Taylor wrote to Sondland “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland responded, “Call me.” Elsewhere in these exchanges, Sondland disputes the notion of a “quid pro quo,” but the weight of the evidence suggests this was a perfunctory gesture to create plausible deniability.

The Ukrainian texts weren’t the only bad news for the White House on Thursday night. CNN reported that Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, interjected himself into a conversation American diplomats had with the Ukrainian government about a statement they were issuing on corruption. According to CNN, Giuliani felt the statement “did not go far enough and suggested inserting references to pursuing probes of Burisma and the 2016 election.” Wary of being ensnared in Giuliani’s scheme, the Ukrainians refrained from issuing any statement at all.

CNN also reported on a phone conversation Trump had in June with Chinese president Xi Jinping. In that phone call, “Trump raised Biden’s political prospects as well as those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who by then had started rising in the polls, according to two people familiar with the discussion. In that call, Trump also told Xi he would remain quiet on Hong Kong protests as trade talks progressed.”

These revelations vindicate impeachment proceedings: Trump is a corrupt president who has turned foreign policy into a handmaiden of his political vendettas. Congressional Democrats must pursue impeachment quickly and without flinching, but it’s worth being mindful of all the other scandals in this administration that are barely registering in the public’s consciousness.

Thursday brought news not just of Ukrainegate but also a bipartisan report from New York University warning that the Trump administration’s abuse of science had reached a “crisis point.” Written by a team led by former US Attorney Preet Bharara and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, the report argued, “Now, we are at a crisis point, with almost weekly violations of previously respected safeguards.” As evidence of these violations, The New York Times noted that “in a single month in 2017, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency blocked scientists from speaking at a climate change conference, its Interior Department forwarded a policy letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection only after deleting concerns from biologists about a border wall’s effects on wildlife, and the F.B.I. issued a crime report that omitted dozens of tables of data on homicides and arrests.”

Also on Thursday, ProPublica released a report documenting that Trump’s Department of Agriculture was giving special permission to chicken processing companies to allow them to speed up their factory lines. As ProPublica notes, “most of the 11 plants that received permission to run faster did so despite having a history of serious accidents, including deaths.” This move is in keeping with the general relaxing of environmental and labor regulations by the Trump administration.

Trump’s war on science and his hostility towards workplace safety are not front-page stories, nor are they grounds for impeachment. But they have a large real-world impact. Unfortunately, as impeachment becomes a public obsession, stories like this will fall to the wayside. Nor are they the only Trump and GOP scandals to be marginalized. One could draw up a long list that would include the continuing mistreatment of migrants and the racist campaign to restrict voting rights via gerrymandering and the Census.

One of the difficulties in fighting the Trump administration is that it has too many scandals. Each new report of criminality crowds previous transgressions from public memory. The best solution to this problem is a political campaign. A strong candidate can weave together the numerous offenses, including Ukrainegate, into an overarching narrative of plutocratic corruption, one that blames not just Trump but also the political party that enabled him.

The Democrats have the votes to impeach Trump already, along with the evidence to vindicate their action and shame the Republicans for not joining them. The best course would be to impeach quickly so that the drama doesn’t derail other equally urgent political conversations. If impeachment is done expeditiously, whoever becomes the Democratic nominee in 2020 will have time for to do the work that we really need: draw up a comprehensive indictment of Trump and the Republican Party.

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