Revised Democrat Impeachment Process Still Unfair

After more than a month of carefully selected media leaks intended to persuade American public opinion to support President Trump’s removal from office, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ordered the House to vote last week to formally authorize an impeachment process.

Pelosi’s move was a response to increasingly vocal objections to the secret investigation that was being conducted by Adam Schiff, the Democrat Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, intended to uncover enough evidence to justify overturning the results of the 2016 presidential election less than a year before the 2020 election.

The formal vote by the House to go forward with the impeachment process did satisfy one of the major constitutional criticisms of the congressional hearings into Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine that Pelosi had authorized in September. But upon closer examination, the ground rules Pelosi has set up for a new series of public hearings that Schiff will hold to present his evidence against Trump are almost as unfair and one-sided as the dictatorial way in which Schiff has conducted his secret hearings to date.

Furthermore, those secret hearings are slated to continue. Schiff and his fellow Democrats continue to scour the ranks of the Trump administration looking for more witnesses willing to testify against the president’s Ukraine policies.

PUTTING SCHIFF IN CHARGE

Pelosi’s impeachment authorization resolution, which passed the House last week with the votes of all but two Democrats (who hold a 20-vote majority in that chamber), assigns the entire impeachment investigation to Schiff’s Intelligence Committee, cutting out the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, which had been holding impeachment hearings jointly with the Intelligence Committee until now. The only practical effect of this move will be to eliminate the participation in the new hearings of prominent Republican House members of the two excluded committees, such as Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan. Republican leaders are considering responding to the move by temporarily reassigning Jordan to the Intelligence Committee, restoring his right to participate in the impeachment hearings.

Congressman Meadows complained that the new rules mean that the new hearings will also be “totally one-sided. They can continue to do secret depositions.”

The new rules also leave the transcripts of the depositions under Schiff’s total control. The Pelosi resolution says, “The chair is authorized to make publicly available in electronic form the transcripts of depositions conducted by the [Intelligence Committee] in furtherance of the investigation.” That means that Schiff can release the transcripts if he wants to, but does not compel him to do so. Meadows predicted that the Democrats will “continue to pick and choose which depositions they will release.”

Schiff also retains the right under the new rules drafted by Pelosi to reject any request by the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, to call a specific witness to testify in support of the president.

NADLER PUSHED TO THE SIDELINES

Nunes said, “The rules the Democrats rammed through simply confirm the absolute control Schiff has been exercising this entire time. He shouldn’t be involved in impeachment at all since none of this has any intelligence component, but Pelosi obviously thinks [House Judiciary Committee chairman] Jerry Nadler is incompetent.”

The Judiciary Committee is traditionally assigned to handle impeachment proceedings, but after the disastrous outcomes of the hearings Nadler conducted featuring the testimony of Robert Mueller and Corey Lewandowski, Pelosi has apparently lost confidence in Nadler’s ability to run a successful impeachment effort.

While the new hearings may be conducted in public rather than in secret, Republicans will still not enjoy the same rights to defend President Trump that were made available to the defense in previous presidential impeachment procedures.

DIPLOMATIC HARDBALL INSIDE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

On Monday, the three committees released the transcripts of closed-door depositions given by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former State Department official Michael McKinley. They both described how Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, persuaded Trump that Yovanovitch was not supporting his administration’s policies and should be removed from her post.

McKinley testified that he had personally urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo three times to intercede on Yovanovitch’s behalf, but that Pompeo did not respond and everyone else was afraid to stand up to Giuliani. McKinley later confronted Pompeo and told him that he was resigning from his post because of the failure “of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry; and, second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives.”

Yovanovitch complained that Giuliani’s criticisms had “cut the ground out from underneath us” at the US embassy in Kiev and reduced her influence on Ukrainian leaders. “Ukrainians were wondering whether I was going to be leaving, whether we really represented the president, US policy, etc.,” Yovanovitch testified, and admitted that she did not understand at that time what the problem was.

She later reached out for help and advice to the US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who was a member of Giuliani’s small circle of influential Trump advisors. Sondland suggested to Yovanovitch that she had a choice to make, she had “to go big or go home,” which meant that if she wanted to stay at her post, she had to issue a tweet supporting Trump’s policies. She rejected Sondland’s suggestion, telling the committee, “It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an ambassador, and as a foreign service officer.”

Eventually, Yovanovitch was forced out of her position as ambassador due to the pressure against her exerted by Giuliani and his friend, ex-prosecutor general of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko. He had been fired as prosecutor in 2016 at the insistence of then-Vice President Joe Biden, while he was looking into the ties between Biden’s son Hunter and a notoriously corrupt Ukrainian gas company.

While the picture the testimony painted of the way in which Yovanovitch was ousted as ambassador was not pretty, it was certainly well within Trump’s discretionary powers as president. Democrats had sought the testimony as part of their general effort to discredit the way in which Trump determined his Ukraine policy, rather than as evidence that he had committed a specific impeachable offense.

THE QUID PRO QUO ACCUSATION

In that sense, it was typical of the Schiff committee hearings, which were designed to create a steady stream of negative stories about the president in the daily media news coverage, in an apparently successful effort so far to portray Trump to the American public as an incompetent and corrupt president.

The next transcripts which Schiff released were the testimony of two US diplomats who were part of the informal Giuliani-led group which strongly influenced Trump’s Ukraine policy: then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, and US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland.

Sondland had gone on the record during the internal Trump administration debate over Ukraine policy defending the legality of the request to have Ukraine open an investigation of the Bidens. In an email to former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Sondland said that Trump had personally assured him there had been no quid pro quo offer during the July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Sondland repeated the claim that there had been no quid pro quo in his testimony in front of Schiff’s committee, but Democrats refused to let that testimony stand. Instead, they called on Sondland’s lawyer to testify, and tricked the lawyer into contradicting his client, saying that Sondland’s testimony, in his opinion, did “amount to” an illegal “a quid pro quo.”

Jim Clyburn, the Democrats’ majority whip in the House, promised that his colleagues “are going to release these transcripts for people to see and read for themselves. We will get to the bottom of this,” Clyburn declared, and then “we’ll be able to make a determination at that time whether or not something happened that was treasonous.”

Clyburn predicted that televised House impeachment proceedings would begin within the next two weeks, reflecting the tremendous urgency that Democrats have placed upon completing the impeachment procedures against Trump before the end of 2019. In a letter Pelosi sent over the weekend to House Democrats, she expressed new confidence that the American public would support Trump’s impeachment. She noted that the polls have “shifted from 59/34 opposed to impeachment when the inquiry was officially announced to 49/47, not only for impeachment, but also removal from office.”

DEMOCRATS IN A RUSH TO FINISH

The rush by Democrats to finish up their impeachment probe as quickly as possible has made it easier for some supporters of President Trump to avoid the need to testify. For example, Schiff has said that his committee will not wait until December 10 for a court hearing on a lawsuit filed by deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman to determine whether President Trump can legally order Kupperman not to testify.

Similarly, retiring Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, another member of Giuliani’s Ukraine advisory group, announced that he will also defy a Schiff committee subpoena to testify. Democrats are aware that they still don’t have sufficient evidence to convince nearly enough Senate Republicans to become part of the 2/3 majority vote needed to convict and oust the president from office. Every reluctant pro-Trump witness that Democrats are forced to bypass because of their rush to finish the impeachment process before the end of the year further increases the already heavy odds that they will not be able to get the Senate to convict Donald Trump and remove him from office.

Indeed, judging from the one-sided nature of the Pelosi’s rules that will govern Schiff’s new round of public impeachment hearings, it does not appear that Democrats will be making a serious effort to change many Republican minds about the president. This suggests that the leaders of the party don’t really expect to win the final impeachment vote in the Senate, but will be satisfied if the mud they sling at him during impeachment proceedings discredits Trump sufficiently in the eyes of enough voters to enable the Democrat presidential nominee to defeat him at the polls next November.

Perhaps Democrats should think twice about that strategy, and consider the fate of the Republicans who tried to win a mud-slinging contest against Donald Trump during the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

WILL BOLTON TESTIFY?

One of the Democrats’ prime potential witnesses is Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton, whose resignation was announced on September 10, just days before the public controversy over Trump’s Ukraine policies emerged. It had been clear for some time before his resignation that Bolton’s influence over Trump’s foreign policy was declining. Bolton reportedly disagreed with Trump’s patience with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Fiona Hill, a member of the National Security Council’s staff, recently said in secret testimony she gave before Schiff’s committee that Bolton also disagreed with Trump’s effort to persuade Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens. But it seems unlikely that life-long conservative Bolton would publicly criticize the president at a Democrat-sponsored congressional hearing seeking a justification to remove Trump from office, or that he would risk going down in history as the hawkish American diplomat who ended his career by taking down a Republican president.

SIDETRACKED DIPLOMAT TAKES HIS REVENGE

Meanwhile, Schiff’s committee has continued to call other witnesses who had some knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine policies, and has released just those parts of their testimony that were damaging to the president. The Democrats’ most effective witness to date was former Ambassador William Taylor, who made clear his resentment that the Trump White House did not ask for his opinion in deciding its Ukraine policy.

Most of Taylor’s knowledge about Trump’s policy towards Ukraine is also based upon second-hand sources. He was not even directly informed that Trump had ordered a temporary delay in the delivery of US military aid to Ukraine this summer; instead, he learned about it from an incidental comment made by a staff member of the Office of Management and Budget during a conference call about another issue.

Taylor spent much of his testimony complaining about a side group of advisors headed by Giuliani which had encouraged Trump to ask Ukraine’s President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

MILITARY MAN TURNS ON HIS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who has served on the staff of the National Security Council as an expert on Ukraine, said in his prepared secret testimony before the Schiff committee that he had objected to efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens before the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Vindman also said that he disagreed “out of a sense of duty” with the Ukraine policies being recommended to Trump by the Giuliani group.

Vindman said that Trump’s policies had undermined national security, and also reportedly testified that administration lawyer John Eisenberg, currently fighting a subpoena to appear before the Schiff committee, was responsible for initially moving the official transcript of the July 25 conversation between Zelensky and Trump to a highly classified server in order to restrict access to it.

The statement suggests that members of the Trump administration believed that the conversation was potentially harmful to the president, but that is not consistent with Trump’s subsequent actions in which he released the entire transcript to the public to prove that he had said nothing wrong.

Not surprisingly, Trump responded to the criticism from Vindman by characterizing the highly decorated US military officer as a “Never Trumper.” Democrats said that Trump had no right to besmirch the reputation of an American military hero, but Trump supporters countered that Vindman’s military record did not give him the right to publicly challenge the policies of his commander-in-chief.

THE WHISTLE-BLOWER’S COMPLAINT

President Trump insists that he has done nothing wrong in handling US relations with Ukraine. The main impeachment allegation is based upon an anonymous whistle-blower’s complaint about a July 25 telephone conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Trump is being accused of abusing his presidential powers during that conversation by threatening to continue withholding $391 million of US military aid for Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to launch a corruption investigation in Ukraine against former-Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Democrats claim that Trump effectively asked Ukraine’s president to give him political ammunition he could use against Joe Biden, who is still Trump’s leading Democrat rival in his bid for re-election next year.

The decision to delay the delivery of aid to Ukraine was the subject of controversy within the Trump administration. But the accusation that Trump was guilty of serious wrongdoing by demanding the investigation of Biden first surfaced in an anonymous whistle-blower’s complaint submitted to Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the US intelligence community on August 12.

While Atkinson found the complaint to be credible, its content was problematic on a number of levels. It did not contain any firsthand information to support its claim that Trump had made an illegal quid pro quo offer to release delayed US aid to a foreign power in return for its agreement to interfere with the 2020 US presidential election. Furthermore, it was not at all clear that members of the US intelligence community have the legal authority to submit formal complaints about the actions of their commander-in-chief.

When Atkinson’s superior, acting Director of National Security, Joseph Maguire, refused to notify Congress about the complaint, the whistle-blower and his Democrat contacts leaked word that the Trump administration was engaged in a cover-up to the media.

It was later revealed that the whistle-blower, whose identity has never been confirmed, was an anti-Trump registered Democrat who once worked for Vice President Joe Biden in the Obama White House. The whistle-blower had also consulted with a staff member of Schiff’s committee before he filed his complaint with Inspector General Atkinson. Schiff has since admitted that he lied when he originally claimed that he did not know the identity of the whistle-blower.

Trump supporters suspect that the long delay between the July 25 phone call and the submission of the detailed complaint on August 12 was due to the extensive assistance the whistle-blower received from Schiff’s staff in drafting the complaint, because it reads very much like a prosecutor’s indictment.

TRUMP WANTS THE IDENTITY OF THE WHISTLE-BLOWER REVEALED

As is his habit, President Trump has struck back hard against the whistle-blower’s character and credibility. In tweets and public statements, Trump questioned the man’s honesty and patriotism and repeatedly demanded that his identity be made public.

On Sunday, Trump told White House reporters that the whistle-blower had links to President Barack Obama, former CIA director John Brennan and Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice. “There have been stories written about a certain individual, a male, and they say he’s the whistleblower,” Trump said. “If he’s the whistle-blower, he has no credibility because he’s a Brennan guy, he’s a Susan Rice guy, he’s an Obama guy. And he hates Trump.”

“Now, maybe it’s not him. But if it’s him, you guys ought to release the information,” the president told the White House press corps.

Trump later tweeted, “The fake news media is working hard so that information about the whistle-blower’s identity, which may be very bad for them and their Democrat partners, never reaches the public.”

Trump said that his chief accuser, Congressman Adam Schiff, had lied to both Congress and the American people, and called the current Democrat impeachment effort a “scam,” insisting that “My phone call [with Ukrainian president Zelensky] was ‘perfecto.’”

WHISTLE-BLOWER FIRESTORM FORCED PELOSI’S HAND

When the substance of the whistle-blower’s complaint was first publicized in sensational anti-Trump media reports, they created a firestorm of political controversy that exerted huge pressure on House Speaker Pelosi to drop her previous objections to launching a formal impeachment process to remove Trump from office. She and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler had been arguing since the Democrats won control of the House in last November’s election that any impeachment effort would ultimately be doomed to fail if Democrats could not first gather sufficient evidence to convince enough Trump supporters that he was guilty of misdeeds serious enough to justify his removal from office.

But after the White House unexpectedly released the official record of the conversation with Zelensky, which failed to support the whistle-blower’s accusations, Pelosi realized that the case for Trump’s impeachment was very weak. The whistle-blower admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge about the content of the phone call. His complaint was based on second-hand evidence and conjecture he had heard from members of the State Department and national security agencies who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policies.

Because it was based entirely on hearsay, existing procedure indicated that Atkinson should never have accepted the whistle-blower’s complaint in the first place. Nevertheless, Atkinson decided the complaint was credible and submitted it to the newly appointed acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. However, Maguire declined to forward the complaint to leaders of Congress, because of a Justice Department ruling that he lacked the authority to submit such a complaint against the president.

WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE?

The lack of sufficient impeachment evidence against Trump was Pelosi’s primary reason for authorizing Schiff to conduct secret congressional hearings. The Pelosi-Schiff impeachment procedure was launched under very different conditions from those which led up to the impeachment hearings against Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Those impeachments were based on clear evidence of presidential guilt that had already been gathered by thorough and fairly conducted investigations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had proven that President Nixon had engaged in obstruction of justice in an effort to hide the direct White House involvement in the criminal break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC, during the 1972 presidential campaign. Evidence that had been gathered by Independent Counsel Ken Starr proved that the President Clinton had lied in testimony he gave under oath before a federal judge, when he denied engaging in misconduct.

The impeachment procedures against Nixon and Clinton were only launched after such clear evidence of their criminal wrongdoing had been gathered that even most members of their own political parties found it difficult to publicly defend their president.

By contrast, the current impeachment accusation against Trump is based solely on the unproven assumption by those who disagree with his Ukraine policies that Trump ordered the delay in delivering $391 million in aid to Ukraine solely to pressure President Zelensky to give Trump political dirt he could use in the 2020 presidential campaign to smear Joe Biden. The impeachment case against Trump is further weakened by Zelensky’s claim that he never felt undue pressure during the July 25 phone call.

US aid to the Ukraine was not being held hostage by Trump to use as blackmail during the conversation with Zelensky, because Ukrainian officials were not even aware that its delivery was being delayed. Furthermore, as required by law, Trump released the aid to Ukraine on September 11, before the end of fiscal year 2019, without first requiring Ukraine to launch the investigation into the Bidens. There was no quid. There was no quo. Trump never made an explicitly corrupt proposal to the Ukrainian president.

ANOTHER UNJUSTIFIED WITCH HUNT

As was the case in the Trump-Russian collusion witch hunt, the current Democrat impeachment hearings are a desperate search to find a significant underlying crime.

Over the past three years, Democrats have been unable to produce any clear evidence that President Trump has committed an impeachable “high crime or misdemeanor,” as required by the Constitution for congressional removal of a sitting president from office. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year-long investigation failed to find evidence that the alleged criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia to influence the 2016 election ever existed. In his final report, Mueller also declined to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice by interfering with his investigations into the alleged conspiracy.

Similarly, there is no direct evidence to support the whistle-blower’s complaint that Trump exerted undue pressure on the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation of the Bidens. The official White House record of the phone call shows that Trump mentioned the Bidens only once during the half-hour long conversation, and never mentioned that he had delayed the delivery of US military aid.

The Nixon and Clinton congressional impeachment procedures were conducted in open hearings, some of which were broadcast live to a nationwide television audience. In those hearings, White House lawyers and supporters of the president were granted the same rights that any defendant is routinely given when tried in a court of law, to cross-examine witnesses and present exculpatory evidence in the president’s defense.

But that was not the case in the secret congressional committee hearings about Trump’s Ukraine policies that Adam Schiff has conducted over the past six weeks. Pelosi’s ground rules empowered Schiff to prevent Republican members of those committees from fully cross-examining the anti-Trump witnesses called by the Democrats, or the right to call rebuttal witnesses of their own, or the ability to freely examine the documentary evidence that the Democrats presented against Trump.

THE DEMOCRATS’ ONE-SIDED MEDIA LEAK CAMPAIGN

Portions of the secret testimony damaging to Trump were promptly leaked to the media, undoubtedly by committee Democrats who were the only ones who had free access to it. Meanwhile, Republican committee members were prevented from publicly responding to that testimony by strictly-enforced committee gag rules.

When the steady drumbeat of one-sided media reporting of the committee’s findings finally had the impact the Democrats had desired on the level of public support for their impeachment process, Pelosi finally responded to growing Republican complaints about Schiff’s investigation by agreeing to hold a formal House vote authorizing the impeachment process for the first time, and announcing new rules for future impeachment hearings that would give them a thin veneer of fairness and respectability.

Many Republicans, including some of the president’s closest advisors, were unhappy with Trump’s decision to temporarily delay the delivery US military aid to Ukraine, and quietly raised objections to it, which is most likely the real reason the freeze was lifted. But many of those same Republicans were incensed by the grossly unfair way that Schiff and the Democrats were conducting their investigation. They and several prominent constitutional law scholars warned that Democrats were setting a dangerous historical precedent by trying to remove Trump from office because they disagreed with how he exercised his broad constitutional authority to conduct US foreign policy as he sees fit.

A DEMOCRAT IMPEACHMENT FRENZY

Democrats have been desperate to find any excuse to remove Trump from office ever since the morning after he won the 2016 election. After their disappointment at the failure of the Mueller report to give them the incriminating evidence they had been looking for, they were eager to believe the allegations in the anonymous whistle-blower complaint. Ironically, the controversial phone call between Trump and Zelensky took place just one day after the weak congressional testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller destroyed what little hope the Democrats had left that his failed investigation of Trump would lead to the president’s impeachment.

By late September, the media frenzy over the whistle-blower’s complaint had reached such a crescendo that Speaker Pelosi, who had been resisting calls from fellow Democrats to endorse an impeachment effort, could resist the pressure no longer. She publicly announced the launching of simultaneous investigations by three House committees to gather the evidence needed to support the passage of formal articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.

The very next day, in a move that caught Democrats by surprise, Trump released the rough transcript of the phone call to the public. It directly refuted the main allegation in the whistle-blower’s complaint, that Trump had offered the Ukrainian president a clearly corrupt political quid pro quo, by making release of the frozen aid to Ukraine contingent on it launching an investigation of the Bidens.

President Zelensky, who was visiting New York at the time to attend the UN General Assembly, told reporters that he had not felt any pressure from Trump during his phone call to launch such an investigation.

WHAT TRUMP ACTUALLY SAID TO THE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT

The transcript revealed that Trump did not discuss Ukraine’s interference with the 2016 US presidential election until about halfway through their conversation. He then asked the Ukrainian president for his cooperation with US Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in their attempts “to get to the bottom” of what had taken place at that time in Ukraine.

Trump then mentioned his concerns about the firing, at Joe Biden’s insistence, of the Ukrainian prosecutor who had been investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, owned by notoriously corrupt Ukrainian businessman Mykola Zlochevsky. Soon after President Obama had put then-Vice President Joe Biden in charge of all US aid to Ukraine, Burisma started paying Biden’s son Hunter at least $50,000 a month to sit on its board of directors.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump told the Ukrainian president. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said, before their conversation moved on to other topics.

Even though many of the whistle-blower’s original allegations have been refuted, Democrats insist that Trump’s comments to Zelensky during their July phone call were clearly improper and were intended to intimidate the Ukrainian president, even though Trump never made an explicit quid pro quo proposal, which is the minimum requirement for indictment on a criminal charge of bribery.

The rough transcript released by the White House also reveals that Trump made no mention of the temporary freeze in aid to Zelensky during the phone call. In fact, it appears that Ukrainian government officials were unaware that the aid had been delayed until several weeks later, when the delay was first reported in the American news media.

Giuliani and his group of informal advisors had previously asked Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens. Many of the regular foreign policy advisors within the Trump administration then raised objections to the investigation request, either because they believed it was inappropriate, or because they objected to outsiders invading their professional turf by attempting to influence US policy towards Ukraine. But it does not appear that the Trump administration was serious about pushing the investigation request, in light of the fact that it ultimately agreed to release the frozen aid without Ukraine having to respond to that request at all.

REPUBLICANS SLOWLY RISE TO TRUMP’S DEFENSE

While many well-known Republicans and conservatives quietly opposed Trump’s decision to freeze US military aid which Ukraine needed to fight Russian military aggression and were initially reluctant to come out in his defense, the tactics being used by Democrats against Trump have convinced more GOP leaders to come out in opposition to the impeachment effort.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House minority whip, said Trump’s call with Zelensky “was not talking about the 2020 election or political opponents,” though the administration’s partial call record specifically shows that Trump brought up Hunter Biden.

“It was about what happened prior in 2016, corruption in Ukraine,” Scalise said in an ABC News interview. “The law requires the president to certify that a country, before they get foreign aid, is actually taking steps to root out corruption.”

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said in a separate interview Sunday that while she does not know why the Trump administration decided to temporarily delay military aid to Ukraine, what is more important is the fact that Ukraine ultimately did receive the aid it needed, and the delay did it no harm.

In fact, there is a long history of other US presidents holding up aid promised to foreign countries. This includes President Obama’s decision to withhold US military aid to Egypt in 2013 because the Egyptian military had overthrown President Mohamed Morsi, who had been elected with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Middle East’s oldest Islamic terrorist groups.

IS IMPEACHMENT JUSTIFIED?

By temporarily delaying the delivery of US military aid promised to Ukraine, Trump may have made a foreign policy mistake, but he certainly did not exceed his constitutional authority over foreign policy. Furthermore, Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president act to clean up the country’s chronic corruption problems was also appropriate, even if it involved a former US vice president, as well Trump’s request for Ukraine’s cooperation in an ongoing Justice Department investigation of who had tried to interfere with the US 2016 presidential election.

Should Trump have mentioned the name of his political opponent, Joe Biden, in his conversation with the Ukrainian president? Probably not. It was coarse and indelicate on Trump’s part; inappropriate, but not illegal; and certainly not serious enough, by itself, to justify Trump’s removal from office via impeachment.

Democrats will face a daunting task in trying to keep voters sufficiently distracted over the next year to prevent them from coming to this conclusion about the lack of sufficient justification for the Democrat impeachment effort before next year’s Election Day.