On Jan. 20, 2017, immediately after giving his inaugural address, Donald J. Trump and his wife Melania, who had just become the First Lady, climbed the steps of the Capitol and made their way to their places on the dais of the congressional luncheon traditionally given to the newly inaugurated president of the United States. It is usually a joyous occasion, especially for the new president. His long campaign is finally over. He has completed the transition. Some of his cabinet secretaries have already testified at their confirmation hearings, as Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, had already done. Later in the day, the new president would make the drive along Pennsylvania Avenue, take up residence in the White House and officially occupy the Oval Office, signifying the power and prestige of having been elected president of the United States.
A few moments after the new president and his first lady took their seats, the cameras found them sitting behind a row of flowers looking like they had just been told of a death in the family. Both of their mouths were downturned, their eyes were downcast, and Trump had his arms crossed like a child who had been told to finish eating his peas. I wondered that day what could have made the new president of the United States and his wife look so unhappy at such a joyous occasion, and now we know the answer. He knew this day was coming.
He knew things we didn’t know on that day about what he had done to get elected. He knew about the meeting in Trump Tower held by his own son and son-in-law and campaign manager and several Russians who had come offering “dirt” on his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He knew that people from his own campaign had met with a Russian national and given him polling data from Midwestern states that were being closely contested. He knew that elements of the Russian government were involved in supporting his campaign by placing ads on social media platforms in the very Midwestern states covered by the polling data they had been given. He knew that emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee by Russian intelligence operatives had been released to divert attention from the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape. And he knew that during the transition, the man who would become his national security adviser had met with the Russian ambassador and spoken with him by phone immediately after President Obama had imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering in our elections, assuring him that the Russians had nothing to worry about because Trump would lift the sanctions when he became president.
Trump was impeachable after his own inauguration, and on the day he asked James Comey to shut down the investigation of Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, who was accused of having lied about his conversation with the Russian ambassador about lifting the sanctions on Russia. He was impeachable on the day he fired Comey as FBI director, after Comey had revealed that Trump and his campaign had been the subjects of a criminal and counterintelligence investigation for more than nine months. He was impeachable a few days later, when he admitted on national television that he had fired Comey in an attempt to stop the Russia investigation. He was impeachable on the day after he fired Comey and told the Russian ambassador and foreign minister that by firing Comey, the “pressure” of the Russia investigation had been lifted.
Donald Trump has been impeachable again and again and again because he has committed multiple impeachable offenses, many of them spelled out in detail in the report made by former special counsel Robert Mueller, the unredacted version of which we still haven’t seen. Trump himself has known this all along. That is why we almost never see him with a smile on his face, and when we do see him smiling, it’s so obviously not a genuine smile of happiness but rather the kind of self-satisfied expression he has on his face at his rallies in response to adulation from his fans, which he drinks in but realizes somewhere deep inside he doesn’t deserve. Donald Trump has been a deeply unhappy man the entire time he’s been president of the United States, because he knows that he doesn’t belong there. The fact that he will now be impeached is merely one more unhappy occurrence in a presidency that has been as clearly unsatisfying for the man who occupies the Oval Office as it was unearned.
The back-to-back releases of the official White House “memo” of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and of the whistleblower complaint filed last month have really only served to confirm what we’ve known about Trump all along. What’s new is that they have led to the first official move by the Congress to impeach the president for transgressing his oath of office.
Most of the coverage of the phone call and the whistleblower complaint has focused on Trump’s attempts to get a leader of a foreign nation, currently the president of the Ukraine, to help in his re-election campaign by digging up dirt on one of his potential opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden. In effect, it is being proposed that Trump be impeached for the same thing he did in the last election when he solicited and accepted help from Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
But there is yet another impeachable offense lurking in these two documents. I say “lurking,” because the one word that does not appear in either one of them is “Russia.” This is despite the fact that, looked at from a different angle, the primary subject of both the telephone conversation and the whistleblower complaint is the fact that Donald Trump has taken the side of Russia in its aggression against our nominal ally, Ukraine, in contravention of what is ostensibly our national security.
The tone of pleading and groveling by Zelensky in his conversation with Trump in July is palpable. Look at the position he is in. Russia invaded and seized the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 without any nation allied with Ukraine lifting a finger, other than to impose economic and political sanctions on Russia. A huge swath of Ukrainian territory along its eastern border is currently under occupation by Russian militias and Ukrainian sympathizers of Russia. More than 10,000 Ukrainian nationals have lost their lives in the fighting there since 2014. That is more than we have lost in 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than one million Ukrainians have been displaced by the war and are refugees within their own country.
In the face of all this, Trump had ordered almost $400 million in military aid that had been appropriated by the Congress to be withheld from Ukraine. That is why practically the first thing Zelensky mentioned to Trump on the phone were the Javelin missiles Ukraine wants from the U.S. You know what Javelin missiles are? They are anti-tank missiles. Ukraine wants them because Russia is using tanks against Ukrainian fighters and civilians in its occupation of eastern Ukraine and in defense of its seizure of Crimea.
There is a war going on between our ally Ukraine and our enemy Russia, and Donald Trump has taken Russia’s side. Way down in the whistleblower complaint you will find the answer to why Trump ordered the withholding of military aid to Ukraine. The whistleblower describes Trump engaging in some artful mob-boss hint dropping when he “told reporters ‘I think [Zelensky] is going to make a deal with President Putin, and he will be invited to the White House, and we look forward to seeing him.’” Two weeks after his phone call with Zelensky, Trump was still waiting for the dirt on Biden he had asked for. Zelensky was still waiting for the military aid he had been promised, but which he knew had been withheld on Trump’s orders.
Trump had him between a rock and a hard place, and he knew Zelensky would get the hint that he should make “a deal” with Putin: “I think he will,” Trump told reporters. “He’s a very reasonable guy. He wants to see peace in Ukraine, and I think he will be coming [to the White House] very soon, actually.”
Trump would not release the military aid to Ukraine until Sept. 11, when the inspector general of the intelligence community forced the issue by notifying the House and Senate Intelligence Committee chairs that a whistleblower had filed a complaint alleging an “urgent concern” about the phone call between Trump and Zelensky.
You want to know who had an “urgent concern” about that phone call? Zelensky did, because his country had been invaded and occupied by its much larger and more powerful neighbor, Russia, and 10,000 of his citizens had been killed and more were being killed every day.
At his press availability with Zelensky at the UN this week, Trump once again told the press that he thought Zelensky would “make a deal” with Russia, clearly pressuring the president of Ukraine on behalf of Trump’s pal, Vladimir Putin.
Trump wanted Ukraine to capitulate to Russia and surrender the territory Russia had already seized. Trump was doing the same thing he did before. He was paying off Putin for interfering on his behalf in the presidential election of 2016 by leaning on Zelensky, not only to demand dirt on Biden, but to demand he surrender to Russia.
What Trump did with Ukraine and Russia isn’t just impeachable. It’s treasonous.