House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff’s opening statement at today’s hearing, a grilling of National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire, was remarkable. To begin with, he recited a parody of the conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that was so absurd, it would not have made it into a Grade-C mob movie. A telling decision by Schiff, a capable former prosecutor: If you have an extortionate conversation, you quote it. If you need to imagine it into something it isn’t, that means it is not an extortionate conversation.
Also telling: Chairman Schiff came flying out of the starting block describing how overwhelmingly dependent Ukraine is on the United States and its president. Of course, this fact must be forced to the fore because it is not obvious from the Trump–Zelensky conversation — again, Schiff does not have evidence that Trump extorted Zelensky for the purpose of aiding Trump’s 2020 campaign.
But more to the point, the relationship of dependency intensified in 2015 due to the flight to Moscow of Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. At that point, a new Ukrainian government more to the Obama administration’s liking, under President Petro Poroshenko, came to power. It was desperate for American help, financially and security-wise, which is why Vice President Biden was in a position to pressure it into firing the prosecutor who was conducting a corruption investigation of Burisma, the energy company that had appointed Hunter Biden to its board and was lavishly compensating him.
In Ball of Collusion, I outline some of the extensive evidence that in 2016, the Obama administration’s law-enforcement agencies pressured their Ukrainian counterparts to revive a dormant corruption investigation of Paul Manafort. I summarized the matter in an excerpt for Fox News a few days back:
During the . . . early 2016 weeks when [Alexandra] Chalupa [a Ukrainian-American and DNC operative] was tapping her Ukrainian sources and giving Democrats a heads-up about a potential Manafort-Trump alliance, NABU [Ukraine’s anti-corruption] investigators and Ukrainian prosecutors journeyed to Washington. There, the Obama administration arranged for them to huddle with the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the White House’s National Security Council (agencies that coordinated frequently throughout the collusion caper).
Andrii Telizhenko, a political officer at Ukraine’s embassy in Washington, later told The Hill’s John Solomon that the U.S. officials uniformly stressed “how important it was that all of our anti-corruption efforts be united.” The officials also indicated to their Ukrainian counterparts that they were keen to revive the investigation of payments by Yanukovych’s ousted Party of Regions government to an American political consultant — i.e., the FBI’s Paul Manafort probe [that was reportedly closed without a recommendation of charges in 2014] . . .
Nazar Kholodnitskiy, Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, told Solomon that soon after the January 2016 Washington meetings, he found that Ukrainian officials were effectively meddling in the American presidential election. Another top Ukrainian lawman, Kostiantyn Kulyk, recalled that after the Kiev contingent’s return home from the United States, there was lots of buzz about helping the Americans with the Party of Regions investigation.
If it is of importance today that Ukraine is beholden to the president and the American administration for help, was it not at least equally important in 2016? I have no problem with the principle that the president should not exploit his power over foreign relations for partisan political purposes. I have a problem with the double standard.
See the way the game is played: When the Obama administration leans on Ukraine for help in an investigation of political opponents, the Democrats and the media say, “But look how corrupt Paul Manafort was!” When the Trump administration leans on Ukraine for help in an investigation of political opponents, the Democrats and the media say, “Abuse of power — impeach him!”