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S. Sivadas 
S. Sivadas 
Opinion

Whistle blower shadow over Trump

S. Sivadas

In her memoirs, Tina Brown recalls that when she became editor of the US magazine Vanity Fair, in January 1984 Ronald Reagan was on a gilded path to re-election. He had made that improbable journey from radio announcer to midlevel movies star to union leader to television host to two-term governor of California to President of the United States.

Two decades later, she recalls, in New York the decade’s biggest signifier would turn out to be a building, not a person; the Trump Tower, the very definition of ersatz with its fool’s-gold facade, its flashy international waterfall, its dodgy financing. And Daniel Moynihan, Senator and one- time envoy to India, when asked to define the eighties, said ‘We borrowed a trillion dollars from foreigners and used the money to throw a big party.’

A former Texas agricultural commissioner Jim Hightower once quipped about George HW Bush that he was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple. Well, by that measure, Trump was born on third base and clearly thought he had stopped there, ever so briefly, to drink in the roar of the crowd as he trotted home in celebration of a grand slam. That larger-than-life size billionaire came to money the old-fashioned way, he inherited it, but he earned his fame with a rare mastery of showmanship. And like any great showman, he knew how to make a memorable entrance.

With his former model wife at his side, Trump cascaded down an escalator in the lobby of the skyscraper bearing his name in 2015 and before the putative Republican front-runner Jeb Bush had announced his campaign was determined to draw an immediate contact with the former Florida governor. And he has never looked back ever since.

Through the decades spanning these illustrious Presidents, Hillary Clinton broke one glass ceiling – she became the first female nominee of a major party – and forever put to rest the question whether a woman could be the supreme commander in chief of the United Sates Armed Forces. She collected nearly 65.9 million votes – more than any Republican nominee ever in US history – just 64,882 fewer than Barack Obama in 2012, and almost 3 million votes more than Trump.

And she did that while facing a set of trials and tribulations unlike any other in American campaign history; a partisan congressional investigation; a primary opponent who attacked her character; a rouge FBI director; the rank misogyny of her Republican rival; a media that scrutinised her every move while failing to get the Republican rival to turn over his tax returns; and even a Kremlin-based campaign to defeat her.

That campaign and the ‘foreign hand’ seems to be pursuing the victor ever since and between May 2017 and March 2019 Trump tied himself up in knots over the special counsel Robert Mueller’s enquiry report into whether his 2016 campaign conspired to receive help from Russia; And also whether Trump obstructed justice during that investigation.

In a congressional letter delivered to Mike Pompeo, three House committees demanded documents as part of their investigation into ‘the extent to which President Trump jeopardised national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression’.

The chairmen of the intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees also warned Pompeo that ‘your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry’.

That document - a nine-page version of which was made public - to the intelligence community’s inspector general, triggered an almost immediate clash between the executive branch and Congress. And six weeks later, the whistleblower had by some measures managed to exceed what former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III accomplished in two years of investigating Trump: producing a file so concerning and factually sound that it has almost single-handedly set in motion the gears of impeachment.

According to the document, shortly before making the call to the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to press him further on investigating his rival Joe Biden, Trump ordered the suspension of US military aid to that country.

Pompeo however claimed to have been too busy to read more than a couple of paragraphs of the whistleblower’s complaint and insisted that no state department official had done anything inappropriate. ‘In the course of my official duties,’ the whistleblower wrote, he learned that ‘the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.’ Russian help during the first elections and now in the coming one Ukrainian support and a deal seems to be Trump’s game plan.

If the Democrats press ahead with impeachment proceedings, their case will rest in large part on the claim that Trump sought a foreign government's help, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in the balance, to dig up dirt on a political opponent to boost his re-election campaign.

The nine-page Maguire document acknowledged that the complaint alleged serious wrongdoing by the President but insisted that it was not his role to judge whether the allegations were credible.

He also said he was unfamiliar with any other whistleblower complaint in American history that ‘touched on such complicated and sensitive issues. I believe that this matter is unprecedented.’

The Constitution's standard of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ for impeachment is vague and open-ended to encompass abuses of power even if they aren't, strictly speaking, illegal, according to legal experts, warranting impeachment.

It all started with a summertime phone call from Trump asking the President of Ukraine to help investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a transcript the White House provided. The whistleblower's complaint released soon after alleged a concerted White House effort to suppress the transcript of the call and described a shadow campaign of diplomacy by Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

According to the justice department Trump didn’t seem to have violated any laws, but a Republican Senator, Rick Scott of Florida said, ‘I think we ought to go through the process. I mean, no one has shown me what law has been broken.’

Long back, in 1970, House Republican leader Gerald Ford, defined an impeachable offense as ‘whatever a majority of the House of Representatives’ would vote for. On the other hand, the burden of proof in impeachment is, despite the ‘high crimes,’ lower than the standard in criminal cases, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ford might be technically correct, - it takes a majority vote in the House to impeach- but many legal experts find what Ford said was too blatantly political and not in accord with American history.

According to a constitutional expert, ‘You don't impeach the guy because he violated a fairly technical election statute. You impeach him because he exhorted a foreign country into giving him political help.’

There are precedents that back decades on the impeachment issue. In the case of President Bill Clinton, the Republicans who controlled the House impeached him on the charges of obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury in connection with his affair with a White House intern, but when the Senate held a trial on those charges, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to acquit Clinton on one count and five Republicans voted to acquit on the other.

To be fair the Republicans never succeeded in convincing a majority of the people their pursuit of Clinton was not partisan nor was it serious enough to warrant his removal from office.

Quite in contrast, Richard Nixon resigned as President in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee voted for three articles of impeachment against him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Congressional Republicans, who had largely supported Nixon early during the Watergate investigations, made it clear they would not stand by him after the release of recordings revealed his role in trying to cover up the break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters.

It seems far-fetched to think that the impeachment of Trump in the Democratic-controlled House would lead to his removal by a two-thirds vote of the Republican led Senate. That would require 20 Republican senators to vote to oust him –an unlikely prospect, crime or no crime.