If you want to understand why President Trump’s “abuse of power” is an impeachable offense — irrespective of whether the GOP-led Senate permits a real trial — you need only follow Rudy Giuliani’s antics on his latest trip to Kiev.
Giuliani’s mischief has been ongoing for months, as he tried to dredge up disinformation on Joe Biden from a rogues’ gallery of Ukrainians. This has provided the background to Trump’s efforts to strong-arm Ukraine’s president into helping him win reelection.
But the GOP smokescreen has been so intense, its social media stream of fake facts so relentless, that many Americans may still be confused about whether Ukraine-gate justifies the removal of a president. They may actually believe Trump was only trying to fight corruption in Ukraine.
That is utter nonsense, as newspaper editors and anti-corruption activists have told me by phone from Kiev.
Trump’s (and Giuliani’s) only interest in Ukraine is to solicit interference by a foreign country in the 2020 election, by whatever means necessary. Their only goal is to squeeze vulnerable officials and untrustworthy sources to provide fake facts on Joe Biden (or 2016 election interference) in return for high-level meetings or vital military aid.
Let’s start with Giuliani’s latest trip to Kiev, the first week in December, even as witnesses were appearing at impeachment hearings in Washington.
“If you could create a list of least credible people to talk to in four days, Giuliani hit them all,” I was told by Brian Bonner, chief editor of the Kyiv Post, which has carried extensive coverage of Giuliani’s operations in Ukraine. “It would be comic if it wasn’t so tragic.”
On this trip, Giuliani was participating in the filming of a multipart documentary by an uber-partisan, pro-Trump One America News Network that would exonerate Trump. The film made breathless, bizarre, and nonsensical claims that, while traveling in Kiev, Giuliani almost risked his life “seeking the truth” in Ukraine. He was followed by 1,000 soldiers, the OAN correspondent asserted, and was even tailed by financier and philanthropist George Soros. (Soros is a bugaboo to anti-Semites and the far-right because he has funded civil society groups in former communist countries.)
Calling these claims “blatantly false,” the Kyiv Post wrote: “No large contingent of military personnel was seen in Kiev on the days of Giuliani’s visit.” The OAN news segment, the Post wrote, “seems to be written according to the playbook of Russian disinformation mouthpieces like RT and Russia-24.”
This, however, is the kind of company Giuliani keeps in Ukraine.
For the OAN video, Giuliani reinterviewed Viktor Shokin, a former prosecutor general who has claimed that he was fired in 2016 under pressure from Joe Biden, in order to prevent a probe of the oil and gas company Burisma Holdings, on whose board Hunter Biden sat. This claim has been a central Trump and GOP theme.
But the reality is just the opposite of what Giuliani is selling. “Giuliani and Trump paid tribute to very corrupt prosecutors who were undermining reforms,” I was told by Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the nonprofit Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev. Adds Bonner, “Shokin sabotaged that [Burisma] case. He killed it,” refusing even to send evidence to London for prosecution against its owner.
As for Biden, both Bonner and Kaleniuk say Trump and Giuliani get it absolutely backward. Biden’s threat to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees from Ukraine was made to force Shokin into finally taking action on corruption. His move was cheered by anti-corruption activists, as well as the European Union and international lending agencies.
And Giuliani’s other sources on Biden’s supposed corruption, including a second former prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, were favor-seekers who helped him in hopes of making White House contacts.
“Biden did more to fight corruption than any public official who came to Ukraine,” says Bonner. (However, he faults Hunter Biden for not stepping down from the Burisma board to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, even though the younger Biden broke no laws.)
If I had the space, there are endless more details of Giuliani’s unsavory antics, such as the fact he was pursuing business contracts with some of his sources, including Lutsenko.
But the bottom line is this: Anyone who claims Trump was withholding military aid from Ukraine in order to combat corruption is ill-informed or a liar. His consigliere Giuliani is still pursuing shady characters in Kiev who will give him fake facts for a price.
Trump had only one objective in Kiev: To extort Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on a rival in return for desperately needed military assistance or a still-not-granted meeting with Trump in the White House. (Trump prefers meetings with Russians like Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he just welcomed there for the second time.)
That spells a gross abuse of power — whether or not the impeachment case ever goes to the Senate and irrespective of how Mitch McConnell treats it. The victims of Trump’s abuse of office, in Ukraine, understand this all too painfully, even if the GOP remains blind.