To hear House Democrats and left-wing media outlets tell it, any discharge of President Donald Trump’s official duties that might tangentially benefit him politically is now a high crime or misdemeanor and an impeachable offense.
But Presidents and their Attorneys General are supposed to enforce the law, ensure intelligence and spy powers are not abused and to root out corruption. It’s like saying creating jobs and improving the economy is a personal political interest and impeachable. It is a silly argument to make, but here we are.
In this case, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to take the now declassified high-level July 25 discussion by President Donald Trump with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a part of the President’s constitutional Article II powers to conduct foreign policy, and make that an impeachable offense.
On Sept. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, saying, “This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella.”
Here’s what happened. Trump requested mutual legal assistance for Attorney General William Barr’s ongoing investigation into intelligence abuses that occurred in 2016 when Trump and his presidential campaign were falsely accused of being Russian agents, without evidence, that resulted in massive spying by the Obama administration on the opposition party in an election year, an unbelievable abuse of power that may have very well broken several federal laws.
Now, when Barr and the Justice Department come forward with their findings, it could very well turn up abuses by the Obama administration, and this in turn will probably benefit Trump politically from it when the truth comes out. But that is not a high crime or misdemeanor, it’s not bribery and it’s not treason, so it’s not impeachable.
Presidents and Attorneys General are supposed to enforce the law. Under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the President shall “take care that the laws be faithfully executed…”
For Barr’s part, he oversees the nation’s Justice Department and is responsible for ensuring that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is not abused. The nation has an interest in ensuring that this sort of thing never happens again.
In addition, under the U.S.-Ukraine Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty of 1998, partner countries are required to cooperate on law enforcement matters.
Zelensky pledged that his government would cooperate with Barr’s investigation of the false Russiagate investigation, saying, “I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.”
Trump responded, “Good, because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair… There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
That’s all true. Here, Trump is referring to corruption in Ukraine that the U.S. sometimes helped to fuel, mentioning the fact that former Vice President Joe Biden — who was Obama’s appointed provincial governor of Ukraine and was instrumental and bragged in his book about personally overthrowing former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 — threatened his successor, Petro Poroshenko, by withholding $1.2 billion of loan guarantees unless Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, was fired who says he was fired because he was investigating the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the Board of Directors of.
Zelensky, for his part, was overwhelmingly elected this year on an anti-corruption platform, and clearly has an interest in ensuring that members of his government, especially prosecutors charged with ensuring the rule of law, are not subjected to foreign coercion and pressure for corrupt purposes.
Biden using U.S. foreign assistance to get a prosecutor fired is again relevant to Trump’s discharge of his foreign affairs duties as he seeks to improve relations with Ukraine. Was former President Barack Obama aware that the $1.2 billion of loan guarantees was threatened? What about the State Department? Did Ukraine feel pressured and did this harm relations or hurt the Poroshenko administration’s public image with Ukrainians? What legitimate foreign policy objective did this serve?
Trump was accused of withholding military assistance by implication — a review of military assistance was completed by Sept. 11 and aid was released — but the only mentions of military aid in the transcript are Zelensky and Trump complaining that France and Germany don’t do enough to help Ukraine, and Zelensky thanking the U.S. for assistance.
Here, again, Trump and Barr both have a legitimate interest in rooting out potential corruption and executing the law, even if those who are breaking the law are members of the opposition party and are doing it overseas.
To be fair, that would have been the justification for the Obama administration’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump in 2016, too, which could have been legitimate. The FBI is supposed to prevent foreign infiltration of the nation’s governmental institutions. The reason the spying was illegitimate was not because it was done on the opposition party in an election year per se — although that would have been reason to proceed with great care, and verify the facts, which was not done — it is because the allegations were made-up out of whole cloth.
And agencies might have had reason to know that it was all fake.
When Special Counsel Robert Mueller looked at the central allegation against Trump, that he was a Russian agent and had helped Moscow to hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails and put them on Wikileaks, he turned up bupkis.
The Mueller report stated, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” That, despite the fact that with the FISA warrants, the Justice Department had access to the Trump campaigns emails, phone calls, text messages and other documents, and unprecedented cooperation by the White House in turning over documents to the Special Counsel.
The facts could have destroyed Trump, but they didn’t, because he was innocent all along — and he knew it. Former FBI Director James Comey was fired, ultimately, because he lied to the President about the extent of the investigation, which Trump knew was fatally flawed. And there went any pretense of an obstruction of justice charge, because Trump did not have a corrupt motive in removing officers who were out to get him on false charges.
Here, again, President Trump, as the head of the executive branch, has the primary responsibility for enforcing the laws of the United States. If officers under him carry on secret, unauthorized investigations on false allegations on his watch, the buck stops there, and it is the President’s responsibility ultimately to ensure that it stops, and Barr’s job to make sure it never happens again.
Now, we turn our attention to the breathless reporting from the New York Times on Sept. 30 that President Trump also requested mutual legal assistance from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help get to the bottom of the phony Russiagate investigation.
Not only does the U.S. also have a mutual legal assistance treaty with Australia, signed in 1997, it was actually Australia that reached out to the U.S. on May 28 in a letter to Attorney General Barr, offering full cooperation with his investigation into that role foreign intelligence agencies, including Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom and Ukraine (and others) played in the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016.
There, Australian ambassador Joe Hockey wrote to Barr, “The Australian Government will use its best endeavours to support your efforts in this matter. While Australia’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, The Hon. Alexander Downer, is no longer employed by the Government, we stand ready to provide you with all relevant information to support your inquiries.”
Here, inadvertently, the Times reveals the true concern by partisans with Trump and Barr’s probe. They are not worried really about Trump looking into Biden’s clear overreach in Ukraine at all, which is public information and Zelensky told Trump in the transcript he already knew that Biden had the prosecutor general fired: “I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation…”
No, they are worried about foreign cooperation with Barr’s probe into the Russiagate witch hunt, which Barr is obligated under the law to complete (again, he oversees implementation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). The Washington, D.C. establishment is terrified about what Barr may find out about the spying and who was responsible, and so the impeachment push stands out as an attempt — and a desperate one at that — to discredit ahead of time anything that Barr finds out.
That makes Barr the true target of the impeachment coup Democrats are attempting now.
Which, good luck with that. Already House Democrats have abandoned the entire original logic of the counterintelligence investigation, the false allegations that Trump was a Russian agent. They have even abandoned any pretense that impeachment will be about the findings of Mueller. But by not using Mueller, they are proving why Barr ought to be looking at the illegitimate basis for intelligence agencies’ 2016 spying on Trump, and are in effect legitimizing, without realizing it, Barr’s investigation into the investigators.
They are scared to death. And maybe they should be.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.