The ‘Trumpeachment’ Clouds
Amb K P Fabian

The clouds are thickening, and we do not know whether there will be thunder and lightning that can cause peril to the occupant of the White House. But, we do know that it will get worse before it gets better, if it ever does, and we see a cloudless blue sky.

Even as a presidential candidate Trump was threatened with impeachment, he took office in January 2017 and the impeachment talk continued. In December 2017, a motion to start impeachment proceedings against him got only 58 votes in the House of Representatives with 364 opposing it. In short, many Democrats opposed the motion. The tide turned against Trump after the 2018 mid-term elections when the Democrats took control of the House.

Under the U.S. system, the House has to pass a resolution to impeach after hearings, public or private, and it is for the Senate to try the impeached President. The Senates holds the trial, overseen by the Chief Justice, with a few members of the House acting as prosecutors. If the Senate by a majority of 2/3rds, present and voting, finds the President guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, he ceases to be President.

The Senate has a Republican majority, 53 in 100. Unless enough Republicans join the Democrats, Trump will not be found guilty. In short, he can be impeached, but might not be found guilty. It is important to note that the House has only voted, 232 to 196, to open the hearings for a possible impeachment and the vote to impeach will take place only after the hearings are concluded.

The Ukrainian Scandal

The current move to start hearings has arisen out of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump with his real estate tycoon background has refused to adopt a presidential style of discourse. He tweets his decisions and threats, and cultivates transparency in conversation, in person or over the phone, to a perilous degree. Till it came out that Trump had tried to blackmail the Ukrainian President Zelensky into ordering a public investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, the impeachment move was not taking off.

Briefly, Washington had decided to give military aid to the tune of $400 million to Ukraine facing threat from Russia. President Putin annexed the Crimea in 2014 and thereafter encouraged a rebellion in the east of Ukraine where the majority speaks Russian. Despite all the military and economic aid that the West has extended or promised to Ukraine, Russia has retained its local military superiority.

Trump wants to get re-elected in 2020, and Joe Biden is currently the strongest Democratic candidate. Some opinion polls have given Biden and other Democratic candidates leads over Trump who has a job-approval rating of 38 percent, as against disapproval rating of 58 percent. For the upcoming election, Trump trails by sizable margins against Joe Biden (56 percent-39 percent); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (54 percent-39 percent); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (56 percent-39 percent); South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (52 percent-41 percent); and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (52 percent-41 percent). Obviously, Trump wants to focus on Biden.

Hunter Biden, 49, served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company by name of Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019. In October 2019, Trump claimed, without producing evidence, that Joe Biden had used influence to get a Ukrainian prosecutor sacked to prevent any investigation into Hunter’s business dealings. As a matter of fact, there was no such investigation was in the pipeline.

The Whistle Blower Act

To understand the predicament Trump finds himself in, we need to look at the role of and protection given under law to whistleblowers in the U.S. In the present case, the whistleblower filed the report with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, as required under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA), which lays out procedures for reporting allegations of fraud, waste, or violations of law. Atkinson determined the complaint was credible and involved an urgent concern and shared it with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Aug. 26, as required under the ICWPA.

The ICWPA requires the director to report any complaint to Congressional intelligence committees within seven days. Maguire found the complaint did not meet the legal definition of “urgent concern”, consulted with the White House, and the report was sent to prescribed members of Congress on Sept. 25. It would appear that Maguire delayed the reporting to the Congress, perhaps under pressure from the White House. The gist of the complaint is that Trump sought a quid pro quo before giving his approval to the $400 million military aid. The quid pro quo demanded was, as mentioned above, legal action against Joe Biden and his son.

Trump and some Republican Representatives have asked for the name of the whistleblower. The name has not yet been revealed. The legal position is not clear. The ICWPA stipulates that the watchdog to whom the whistleblower went should not disclose the whistleblower’s identity without his or her consent, unless the watchdog determines that “such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of the investigation”. Once the matter is out of the hands of the watchdog, there is no explicit legal provision against disclosure. However, if you are member of a House Committee that deals with it and disclose the name, the others in the Committee might look askance at you.

Action in the House

Initially, the Democrats were divided on the advisability of proceeding towards ‘Trumpeachment’. Some of them coming up for re-election were worried that they might imperil their chances by proceeding towards impeachment as Trump might play the victim card skillfully. However, Trump himself by his actions chased away such reservations. Trump publicly called on both Ukraine and China to investigate Joe Biden. The House started with private hearings by the Intelligence Committee chaired by the Democrat Adam Schiff. The private hearings of the White House staff and the Department of State were somewhat damaging. But, some of the officials equivocated. For example, the Ambassador to European Union (EU), Gordon Sondland, asserted that he could not recall having told any Ukrainian official to start investigations against the Bidens. But, the same ambassador in a private hearing later clearly recalled putting pressure on Ukraine. Sondland is not a career diplomat and he was appointed as a reward for his big financial contribution to Trump’s election fund. The credibility of Trump has practically disappeared.

What Next?

The private hearings are now being put into the public domain. The public hearings, likely to be damaging to Trump, will start in a few days. The House will ask the Senate to try Trump, but since the Republicans have a majority there, with 53 seats, and since throwing Trump out of office requires 2/3rds majority, he can be reasonably certain that he will not lose his job. The Democrats want to spoil his chances of re-election by keeping the limelight on the impeachment.

The argument that in Clinton’s case, the move to impeach him backfired and hence that might happen now also is incorrect. Clinton was charged with having sex with an intern in the Oval Office and even more so for committing perjury. The American public does not bother much about sexual adventures of their president. In the present case, the charge is that Trump imperiled national security by seeking a quid pro quo. Sending military aid to Ukraine was in U. S. national interest and Trump stood in the way of securing national interest.

It might be true that the hard-core support base of Trump will not be affected by this impeachment, but to get re-elected he would need the votes of others, the so-called independent voters. Currently, 49 percent of voters want to see him impeached while 47 percent oppose the impeachment. In six ‘battle ground states’ which Trump won in 2016, the tide has turned against him. In short, Trump is in serious trouble as of now. He can hurt himself more with his tweets and his principal adviser Giuliani, who has been active in this matter, can lead him to disaster.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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