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Impeachment and a president, a nation in crisis

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Oct 2, 2019 - 9:28:40 PM

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WASHINGTON—Although Donald J. Trump may prove to be as politically durable as the proverbial cat with nine lives, 13 months before the 2020 election, the incumbent president faces the biggest political crisis of his career.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) started the ball rolling against the president, announcing formal impeachment inquiries by six separate House committees Sept. 24, after a bombshell complaint by an administration insider was revealed. 

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the Hispanic Heritage Month Reception with Vice President Mike Pence, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sept. 27.
In a nine-page document, an unnamed government whistleblower—who has been identified as a CIA official—wrote, “[T]he 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.” The complaint corroborates a rough transcript of a July 25 phone call—released by the White House—showing that the president repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a corruption probe into Mr. Trump’s campaign rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. 

The complaint also revealed details about how the White House, fearing the damage which could result from disclosure, attempted to “lock down” all records of Mr. Trump’s phone conversation soon after it happened by moving the transcript of the call to a standalone computer system reserved for super-secret intelligence information. That act, critics contend, constitutes an attempted “cover up” of the president’s bad behavior.

The legion of supporters of the impeachment initiative is growing by the hour. More than 300 former national security officials signed a letter supporting the impeachment inquiry. A majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives now supports impeachment proceedings against the president. 

Vermont’s Phil Scott and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts became the first two Republican governors to formally back the Democratic impeachment inquiry, a departure from the party norm. Based on public statements and a New York Times survey, only one of the nearly 200 House Republicans supports the inquiry, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.).

“I’m not sure if the Democrats understand the country in which they’re operating,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of History and African Studies at the University of Houston said in an interview. “They were hopeful that with the Mueller report that that would be the beginning of the end for Mr. Trump. 

“But then we were told that Attorney General (William) Barr mangled the Mueller report, and then we were told that Mr. Mueller himself testifying would be the beginning of the end for Mr. Trump. But then that didn’t work either. And now we are told that this Ukrainian issue will lead to impeachment. 

“Well, number one, it’s unclear if the Republicans will convict in the Senate leading to the removal of Mr. Trump from office. In fact, scuttlebutt is that the (Senate) majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wouldn’t even take up the issue just like he hasn’t taken up many Democratic past initiatives from the House. And second of all, I’m not sure if the Democrats realize why it is that Mr. Trump’s base is not crumbling despite all of the accusations.”

Some accusations against the president are longstanding, but the issue which enflamed the late September drive for impeachment was the insider, the whistleblower who questioned Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the power of his office to get the newly-elected president of a foreign country to do him “a favor” by digging up dirt on the president’s domestic political rival, Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

While Mr. Trump insists he has done nothing wrong; that he is the victim of a vicious “witch hunt;” and that his conduct regarding Ukraine has been “perfect;” the circumstances surrounding the July 25 telephone call at the center of the whistleblower’s complaint are suspicious: one week before the phone call, the president ordered $400 million of promised military aid to Ukraine withheld; on the suspect phone call, Mr. Trump reminded President Zelensky that the United States had been “very, very good to Ukraine,” before requesting a Ukrainian investigation into alleged wrongdoings by Mr. Biden and his son.

The president told his counterpart to meet with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, and with Attorney General William Barr to further discuss the details. After the call, worried White House officials worked to “lock down” all records of the conversation. 

Three weeks later a whistleblower filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community based on conversations with more than a half dozen federal officials. The inspector general found the complaint “credible and urgent,” but Mr. Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence sent the complaint to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which determined that the complaint not be shared with the congressional intelligence committees, as required by law. 

As word began to trickle out about the whistleblower complaint, anxiety increased in Washington over the incident until Sept. 24, when Speaker Pelosi demanded the complaint (which was eventually released), warning of “a whole new stage of the investigation,” and announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.

Even though impeachment by the House will not likely result in Mr. Trump’s conviction in the Senate and removal from office, impeachment should be seen as a “test,” rather than as a “process.”

“It’s a test of whether the constructs that were established more than 200 years ago by frankly very, very flawed men—the authors of the American constitution—to try and deal with flawed men,” John Nichols, Washington editor of The Nation said in an interview. “The impeachment process was created because the founders of the American experiment, or at least those who were at the Constitutional Convention had just gone through a Revolutionary War against a monarch and they were less interested in how one achieved power than in how you maintained some popular control, some ‘small d’ democratic control, if you will, over the person who sits in the presidency.

“In those days at the founding, there was a lot of talk about the notion of an elected despot or a king for four years. The idea that someone would win the election and then suddenly disregard the rule of law then operate as a king, at least during that period, and use their power to try and make sure that they maintain their power,” Mr. Nichols said.

That system has been far from perfect, according to Mr. Nichols. In addition to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of which Mr. Trump is accused, literally from the day he took office, the impeachment process has missed several other offenders in the past. “There is simply no question that we’ve had presidents who should have been impeached and were not impeached,” Mr. Nichols said. 

“George W. Bush should have been impeached for illegally and immorally leading us into the war in Iraq. And there is no doubt in my mind that, Ronald Reagan should have been impeached for Iran-Contra. And I don’t want to make this just a Democratic or just a Republican thing. I’ll tell you that some of the actions that Lyndon Johnson engaged in as regards Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and what people knew or did not know at the time raises all sorts of other questions.

“The problem that we’ve had in this country is that we’ve been too cautious about impeachment, too cautious about holding presidents to account; and, if we are now at a moment where we’re considering doing so, fantastic. It’s good news. It means that we might pass the test,” said Mr. Nichols.

Rather than hoping that this impeachment “test” will redeem the badly flawed American experiment, Black people in this country need to make some sober reflections, according to Dr. Horne. “There’s still this line in the Black community that you need to make the United States live up to its supposed ideals. Its ideals were slaveholding, racism, White supremacy, genocide and (the Black leadership) continues to cling to the fantasy because it’s comforting. It helps you to sleep at night.

“Whereas if you were to confront the ugly reality you would be frightened by your present position. I would say it to the Black leadership, the problem is that the time for fantasy is long gone,” said Dr. Horne.