If this is the “Deep State” that President Trump has been warning us about, I’d say we need more of ‘em!
After viewing much of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, I’m left feeling proud, sad, and frightened.
The proud part is easy.
Of the 12 witnesses who testified—all Trump administration appointees—10 were career foreign service officials. I think The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich described them well:
“They are, in a sense, the permanent beating, bipartisan heart of the government of the United States.They are deeply credentialed, polyglot, workaholic, and respectful before Congress.
“They are graduates of Harvard and West Point, and veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They take meticulous notes, are on key phone calls and give ‘readouts.’”
And so, when they uniformly and without rancor gave their pieces of the story concerning what President Trump has actually publicly acknowledged, they were believable.
They were also so very measured—even when attacked, as they were by some of the Republican committee members—so careful with their words, and so highly professional that they made this American proud of her country and hopeful that they will help lead us out of our current divisive, dangerous lawlessness.
Not one of them was there to attack the President; they saw their role solely as fact witnesses. But the facts they detailed showed overwhelmingly that President Trump had tried multiple times via multiple people to use Ukraine for his own political purposes. The fact that he was stopped does not make him innocent.
And the witnesses explained why these actions were dangerous not only to Ukraine’s national security, but to America’s as well.
They also made the case for why we should all care about Ukraine’s fate. It is a strong American ally and a bulwark against Russian aggression. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it gained its independence in 1991.
Ukraine is currently engaged in a hot war against the Russians, who occupied Crimea in 2014 and want to subsume the entire country. More than 14,000 Ukrainians have died in that war.
Further Russian expansion will jeopardize peace in Europe and inevitably involve the US. Like it or not, we live in an interdependent world.
Ukraine’s new, democratically elected president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, won overwhelmingly after promising to try to end the war and rid Ukraine of the corruption that has been rampant there for so long.
Zelensky immediately began making symbolically important changes. Independence Day, on August 24, had in the past been celebrated by what The New Yorker described as “the traditional Soviet-style military parade of soldiers and tanks and missile launchers, which he called ‘pompous and expensive.’”
This year, in a tribute to the “second revolution” in 2013 in which snipers killed more than 100 protesters, Zelensky organized a “March of Dignity” in which over 1000 children lined the way to the site where the demonstrators had been killed.
“The children, dressed in white, clutched yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags and bouquets of daisies.”
The marchers were “schoolteachers, doctors, social workers, and athletes.”
But Zelensky knows symbols aren’t enough. He is dependent on the US, and specifically, its President. He needs the weaponry that Congress overwhelmingly approved on a bipartisan basis but was mysteriously held up until Congress began its investigations.
And he has been seeking a meeting with President Trump in the White House to demonstrate to both the Ukrainian people and Russia’s Putin that he has a reliable ally in the US.
Thus, the importance of the President’s words “I would like you to do us a favor, though…” in the phone call transcript that the President has described as “perfect” and his Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, publicly told the press that yeah, sure, it was a “quid pro quo,” but “get over it.”
In the hearings, piece by piece, the witnesses’ testimonies demonstrated that the President had no interest in Ukraine, its value as an ally, its status as a young democracy looking toward the US as its model, or its importance to US security.
Rather, he sought to use the promise of aid and a visit to the White House as leverage to get Ukraine to open an investigation into alleged and debunked corruption by Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who’d been on the board of a Ukrainian company, Burisma.
(Let me state here that I believe Hunter Biden’s involvement in a Ukrainian company was not smart and looks terrible, although there’s been no indication of wrongdoing.)
The other favor was to validate the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered with our 2016 election.
Importantly, American intelligence officials have recently informed Senators and their aides “that Russia has engaged in a yearlong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election,” reported The New York Times.
Once again, the President is promoting a conspiracy theory that accepts Putin’s word against the findings of US intelligence.
As Zelensky seeks to fight corruption in his own country, the President and his allies have sought to pull him into corruption in our country.
And the President might have succeeded were it not for the whistle blower whose report began the Congressional proceedings. The irony is extraordinary—as well as heartbreaking.
My sadness arose from the hyperpartisan, often brutal, nature of the opposition.
Here’s a sampling of those who testified and what they said.
Marie Yovanovitch spent 33 years in the Foreign Service and was widely respected by both Americans and Ukrainians. But she made a crucial career-ending error: with her legitimate anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, she apparently stood in the way of the plans that the President, Rudy Giuliani, and others had for getting what they wanted from Ukraine’s president.
She was recalled as ambassador, suddenly, amid what she called “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” and even though her boss told her she’d done nothing wrong.
As a result of her treatment, she said, “Bad actors” and not only in Ukraine, will “see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. The only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia.” (All emphases mine.)
No one has questioned the right of the President to recall an ambassador, but many wonder why he did so, in these circumstances, and why he and others have vilified her and sought to destroy her reputation.
In her opening statement to the House committee, she said it was crucial for our embassy in Kiev (now also spelled Kyiv) “to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.”
Still a State Department employee, she was the first to defy the orders not to cooperate and accepted the subpoena to testify. Others soon followed.
As a result of her bravery, former US ambassador Swanee Hunt wrote for CNN,
“In a dismaying but no-longer unusual parallel, she faced the kind of bullying at home that she was fighting abroad.”
Yovanovitch acknowledges fearing for her personal safety based on threats she’s received.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, whose father brought him and his brothers to the US from Ukraine when he was 3 years old, has a purple heart and other medals for his combat service in Iraq and carries shrapnel in his body from his injuries there.
As Director for European Affairs for the US National Security Council (NSC), Vindman felt it was his “duty” to report his concerns about the call between the President and President Zelensky, which he found improper (he used the word “shocked” in response to questions) to John Eisenberg, the NSC’s legal adviser.
“It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent.
“It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan [US Congressional] support, undermine US national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.”
Vindman has been subjected to vile attacks on his patriotism, character, motivations, and judgment—accused of dual loyalties and even espionage. In his testimony, he addressed his father, who was worried about the risks his son was taking in speaking out publicly.
“Dad, my sitting here today..is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
When asked if he is a “Never Trumper,” he said “I’m a ‘never partisan.’” He concluded his appearance by saying:
“This is America…here, right matters.”
Yet according to Reuters, the Army is prepared to protect him and his family, possibly by moving them to an Army base, if necessary.
The final witness on Thursday was Fiona Hill. Like Vindman, Hill is a proud immigrant (from England, where she was the daughter of a coal miner). Like him, she stressed how grateful she is to be a US citizen and to have been able to serve this country she loves.
After graduating from college in Scotland, Hill received a PhD in Russian history from Harvard. She coauthored a book titled Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, published in 2013, which has been called the most useful book about Putin for policymakers.
She’s worked in the Brookings Institution, as the senior expert on Russia and Asia at an internal think tank for US intelligence agencies, and—since 2017, as the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the NSC—first as a deputy to H.R. McMaster, and then to John Bolton.
In other words, her expertise and nonpartisanship are unassailable. She even said she understood that President Trump had been offended by some things written about him in the Ukrainian press prior to his election. But she pulled no punches. Here’s her opening statement:
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
“President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super pac. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives.
“When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”
She reaffirmed the warning about Russian intervention in our elections that Robert Mueller had delivered during his testimony to Congress, in July, adding her own warning about those whom another The New Yorker article called “the useful idiots inside the United States who, deliberately or not, serve to further Russia’s goals.”
“Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
Her words evoked self-righteous indignation from some Republican committee members who had been doing just that, including Devin Nunes, the ranking member, who stated that falsity in his opening remarks.
Others then rushed to affirm how concerned they’ve been about Russian intervention (though not enough to tell their President that he should stop denying what the entire intelligence community had found indisputable).
The most incriminating part of her testimony came when she responded to the Republican staff counsel’s questioning about her dispute with Gordon Sondland, who’d been appointed ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee.
She said she had become “testy” with Sondland because he wasn’t coordinating with the other agencies involved.
While other witnesses had said there were two channels operating in Ukraine—one traditional, the other “irregular,” led by Rudy Giuliani (who has ongoing financial interests in Ukraine that are barely being discussed) and designed to get Ukraine to do President Trump’s bidding—Sondland had said there was only one channel: he reported to President Trump and worked with the others who were following the President’s orders.
He had added that Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Chief of Staff Mulvaney were all involved.
After watching Sondland’s testimony, Hill said that Sondland “was absolutely right because he was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national-security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.”
“And I did say to him, ‘Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is also going to blow up.’ And here we are.”
And here’s why I’m frightened…
Just one day after Robert Mueller’s unfortunately lackluster Congressional testimony, which was far more condemnatory to Trump than the public understood—in part due to the phony spin that Attorney General Barr had put on the findings—the President had that “Do us a favor, though” phone call.
We now have incontrovertible evidence that President Trump withheld both a sought-after White House meeting and much-needed security aid that Congress had approved in order to get the President of Ukraine to open an investigation into Joe Biden and the alleged Ukrainian—not Russian—involvement in our 2016 election.
In other words, this President feels he’s above the law. Yet Republican legislators continue to follow him, to lie for him, to fail miserably in upholding the oaths they took when they were sworn into office.
And what will public reaction be to all this? Who cares about Ukraine? Who cares about foreign intervention in our elections? Who cares that the President of the United States invariably sides with Russia and Putin against US interests?
A recent poll showed independents becoming less supportive of impeachment and more approving of the President. Why?
Have we reached such a hyperpartisan state that Americans don’t care that our President is not only corrupt, but is willing to enlist foreign countries to ensure his reelection—our national security and the US Constitution be damned?
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, wrote that he hadn’t initially been in favor of impeachment.
But the hearings convinced him that President Trump must be impeached and removed from office because “his highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine. It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine.”
He cited several “themes” to illustrate his premise. For more specifics on the comparisons, his column is here.
*”The criminalization of political differences.” (“Lock her up!”)
*”The use of political office as a shield against criminal prosecution and as a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment”
*”The netherworldization of political life, in which conspiracy theories abound, off-stage figures yield outsized influence, and channels of formal authority are disconnected from the real centers of power; [and] the person who is both the principal consumer and purveyor of those falsehoods is the president of the United States…even now, this should astound us.”
*”Covert Russian interference, usually facilitated by local actors.”
“It’s to the immense credit of ordinary Ukrainians that, in fighting Russian aggression in the field and fighting for better governance in Kyiv, they have shown themselves worthy of the world’s support.
“And it’s to the enduring shame of the Republican Party that they have been willing to debase our political standards to the old Ukrainian level just when Ukrainians are trying to rise to our former level.”
“The only way to stop this is to make every effort to remove Trump from office. It shouldn’t have to wait a year.”
Are we up to this effort? Or are we seeing the end of democracy and the rule of law in the United States of America?