As he cursed out an NPR reporter last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo uttered seven words that sum up the sham impeachment trial of President Donald Trump:
“Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?”
That’s the question Pompeo used to berate Mary Louise Kelly, who had the temerity to question him on his role in the Ukraine scandal. (“You did a good job on her,” Trump congratulated Pompeo.)
The White House clearly assumes public interest in Ukraine is so low that the president’s blackmail of its leader will quickly be forgotten, once his trial ends with acquittal.
Yet, irrespective of the verdict, Ukraine has become the symbol of Trump’s worst authoritarian impulses at home and abroad. So Americans can’t afford to forget about Ukraine as we approach 2020 elections. Here are three urgent reasons why.
Trump’s blatant defense of his Ukraine shakedown signals his conviction that the presidency grants him unchecked powers - and no one can stop him.
GOP senators caved, despite undeniable evidence in John Bolton’s book that Trump blackmailed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, withholding desperately needed defensive weapons until Ukraine agreed to investigate his 2020 political opponent, Joe Biden. And until Zelensky pursued a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the 2016 election.
Yet confronted with undeniable truths, the GOP-led Senate refused to hear Bolton. It latched onto a shocking White House defense that a president can do anything to aid his reelection if he considers that reelection to be in the public interest, because this means the motive can’t be corrupt. A 10-year-old could deduce that this claim, made by lawyer Alan Dershowitz (who also defended Jeffrey Epstein on underage sex charges), can justify any corrupt White House behavior.
Acquittal will give Trump a green light to seek more foreign interference in the 2020 election – or do worse if he is reelected. Remember Ukraine.
Trump’s withholding of defensive aid from Ukraine for personal gain highlights his indifference to Russian aggression, and to overall U.S. geopolitical strategy.
Ukrainian soldiers are still dying in eastern Ukraine, where a Russia-backed invasion killed thousands and those defensive weapons were desperately needed. Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea was the first time since WWII that a European army invaded another European country and seized territory.
“Putin has a revisionist agenda,” says the Atlantic Council’s John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “He wants to overturn the post-Cold War architecture. If we don’t stop him in Ukraine, he’ll do something dangerous in a country where we have a [NATO] treaty obligation, like in the Baltics.”
In a “we care” visit to Kyiv last week, dripping with hypocrisy, Pompeo reassured Zelensky of U.S. friendship. But the post of U.S. ambassador to Kyiv remains vacant after Pompeo failed to protest Trump’s shameful sacking of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
And Russia’s aggression won’t end unless Kyiv finally gets strong support from the White House. Hardly likely. On the contrary, Trump’s acquittal will encourage Putin misbehavior.
The good news: Ukraine has many supporters in Congress, including GOP members, who understand the Russian threat and support defensive arms for that country -- despite the president’s uninterest. “Trump’s personal inclinations have given Russians reasons to be hopeful," says Herbst, “and winning on impeachment will encourage him. But he will face the same institutional impediments to appeasement.”
Even otherwise craven GOP senators worry about Russian aggression. But a Trump victory in 2020 means more gifts to Putin. Remember Ukraine.
Instead of fighting corruption in Ukraine, Trump brought new corruption to that country.
The U.S. president arm-twisted Zelensky to do exactly what U.S. officials – including Yovanovitch – had been urging Kyiv not to do: use investigative arms of government for political smear jobs.
“The United States is supposed to be the shining city on the hill, lecturing Ukraine about cleaning up corruption, but the president who lectures against it, engages in it,” says Brian Bonner, chief editor of the Kyiv Post in Ukraine.
And by the way, it was bizarre to hear GOP senators during the trial repeating old lies that Joe Biden was trying to get an “honest” Ukrainian prosecutor fired. The truth (as anyone not gulled by White House fiction knows by now) is totally the opposite: Biden, along with Ukrainian officials and NGOs, the International Monetary Fund, the EU, and the U.S. State Department, was trying to depose a corrupt prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who refused to prosecute Burisma, the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Even Republican Sens. Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, and Mark Kirk wrote a letter urging Shokin’s ouster (a fact they’ve conveniently forgotten).
Remember Ukraine whenever you hear Trump talk about combating corruption.
And remember that Ukraine deserves U.S. support against Russian aggression, irrespective of a president who tied that country up in his personal political games.