House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., California) announced Thursday that Democrats will draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Pelosi could not have sounded more ominous. She insinuated that Trump is like an “oppressive monarch” or a “king president.” She warned, “And if we allow a president to be above the law, we do so surely at the peril of our republic.”
Pelosi is correct: President Trump is not above the law. Yet Democrats have struggled to identify any laws that the president has broken throughout Ukraine-o-rama.
- In a largely overlooked portion of his testimony, one of the Democrats’ star witnesses stated that the National Security Council found that the 55-day pause in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was lawful.
“There was an opinion, legal opinion, rendered that the hold was legal,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman told the House Intelligence Committee on November 19.
“On the purely legal point of view?” asked Representative Mike Quigley (D – Illinois.)
Vindman replied: “Correct.”
The White House should dispatch Marine One to fly over Capitol Hill and hurl hundreds of copies of this legal opinion through the windows and into the curious hands below.
- Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone, “I would like you to do us a favor” and examine alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, what he suspected to be Ukrainian hacking of DNC computers (atop Russian skullduggery), and corruption accusations against the Bidens. This request conformed to America’s Treaty with Ukraine on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. President Clinton signed this pact in July 1998. The Senate ratified it in October 2000.
The U.S. and Ukraine agreed to “provide mutual assistance … in connection with the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of offenses, and in proceedings related to criminal matters.”
Just as this accord envisioned, Trump and Zelensky conferred on investigating, prosecuting, and preventing possible Ukrainian campaign intervention and any conceivable corruption between the Bidens and Burisma — the Ukrainian natural-gas company that reportedly paid board member Hunter Biden $83,333 per month while his father was involved with U.S.–Ukrainian policy as America’s Vice President.
- The aid pause was within Trump’s responsibility to assure that $391 million did not vanish down a black hole of graft. Also, OMB official Mark Sandy told the Intelligence Committee that he “attributed the hold to the President’s concern about other countries not contributing money to Ukraine.” This policy echoed Trump’s perfectly legal pronouncements on this matter.
“I gave the money because [Republican Senator from Ohio] Rob Portman and others called me and asked,” Trump said on October 2. “But I don’t like to be the sucker. And European countries are helped far more than we are, and those countries should pay more to help Ukraine.”
Trump asked Congress for “deep cuts to foreign aid” in his March 15, 2017 budget message. “It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share.”
- Delays in foreign aid are nothing new. “This hold on security assistance [to Ukraine] was not significant,” Ambassador Kurt Volker told the Intelligence Committee. “I had seen holdups of assistance. I just assumed it was part of the decision-making process.”
President Trump withheld $300 million in aid to Pakistan last year, for neglecting its anti-terrorism commitments. Obama chopped aid to Uganda in 2014 after it adopted cruel anti-gay statutes. Human-rights worries prompted President Carter to slice aid to Argentina, Ethiopia, and Uruguay.
- Despite all the controversy, Ukraine received its lethal military aid on September 11. If those funds were unallocated on October 1, that would have been illegal. “Not spending money that has been appropriated would violate the 1974 Budget and Impoundment Control Act,” said the Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl. However, these funds beat the September 30 Fiscal Year-end deadline by 19 days — like paying one’s taxes on March 27, rather than April 15.
“Who cares? Trump only coughed up the cash because he got caught!” So retort the president’s foes, noting that the caissons got rolling two days after the White House learned of the whistleblower’s complaint. However, this claim goes well beyond the facts and delves into conjecture and clairvoyance.
There is no way to know President Trump’s state of mind on September 11. Trump opponents presume that he released the aid as a panicked reaction to the whistleblower’s emergence.
But the president could have had any number of less suspicious motivations: satisfaction with Zelensky’s anti-corruption bona fides, Senator Portman’s entreaties, a “good government” desire to avoid a messy collision with the September 30 deadline, a perfect opportunity to demonstrate (yet again) that he is a shockingly counterproductive Russian agent, or perhaps a warm reaction to balalaika music on his Spotify account.
What observers do know is that the security assistance went from Washington to Kiev before September 30. So, whatever else happened, President Trump obeyed the Impoundment Control Act, too.
Of course, impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. But rather than punishing a crime spree, Democrats want to impeach President Trump — for honoring one law, legal opinion, or precedent after another.
— Michael Malarkey contributed research to this opinion piece.