Stockholm (Ekonamik) – In announcing an impeachment inquiry into president Donald Trump Tuesday, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has determined the political agenda for the U.S. until at least the end of this calendar year, and probably well into next year’s presidential election. She had no choice, following days of reports alleging the president had pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate former U.S. Vice President and potential 2020 campaign rival Joe Biden and his family and the high likelihood of direct evidence of presidential misconduct. The central question is which side stands to benefit the most from it.
Mr Trump is alleged to have attempted to extort president Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Mr Biden related to his son Hunter’s presence on the board of a Ukrainian energy company during the Obama era. In a quid pro quo, he is also alleged to have withheld $391 million in foreign aid earmarked to help Ukraine’s defence against Russian encroachment, according to information initially flagged in a whistleblower complaint. Following comments from Mr Trump himself acknowledging his conversation with Mr Zelensky, and unfolding evidence of the involvement of his personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, in attempting to influence the Ukrainian government over the summer, Ms Pelosi saw no option but to proceed with initiating hearings.
“The actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonourable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Ms Pelosi said in brief remarks following a meeting with the Democratic caucus. “Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official inquiry.”
A transcript of the July call between Mr Trump and Mr Zelensky released Wednesday confirmed that Mr Trump had indeed pressed Mr Zelensky to work with Mr Giuliani and the U.S. Attorney General, Bob Barr, on a corruption investigation into Mr Biden and his son Hunter. It thereby acknowledges the request for assistance but not – explicitly – the allegation of the foreign aid quid pro quo. The document is not a verbatim transcript and is more of a summary, as it was assembled from contemporaneous notes and recollections from those listening on the phone call. It is possible details have been omitted.
At issue is the notion of soliciting foreign intervention in an American presidential election, in addition to whether Mr Trump threatened a quid pro quo in terms of the foreign aid Ukraine requires to protect itself from Russia, which are both illegal. The call from Mr Trump to Mr Zelensky came on July 25, a mere day after testimony from Robert Mueller, the U.S. Special Counsel in charge of investigating Mr Trump’s relationship with Russia and its involvement in the 2016 presidential election, failed to implicate Mr Trump directly, something Mr Trump felt had “exonerated” him. If it is found that there is such a quid pro quo in addition to the solicitation, the matter worsens further for Mr Trump. In addition, it is not clear what Mr Giuliani’s and Mr Barr’s roles were, as Mr Trump appears to have circumvented the apparatus of state entirely in making what appears to be a personal request – while deploying the full extent of its power.
Ms Pelosi had previously resisted demands for impeachment proceedings from growing elements of the Democratic caucus in view of next year’s presidential election. Even if the House of Representatives were to vote in favour of impeachment, the likelihood of a conviction in the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, is near zero. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Ms Pelosi’s concern had been that a failed conviction would strengthen the president electorally, and push him to further disregard the law politically. Some Republicans, including, apparently, Mr Trump, believe impeachment could be beneficial for them politically, in terms of activating their base and aggravating voters who left the Republican Party in the 2018 midterms. Support for impeachment remains tepid among Americans, though this could change, depending on what is revealed in the process of the impeachment hearings.
Democrats are now reviewing the complaint and requesting testimony from the original whistleblower as Ms Pelosi and the House of Representatives go about impeachment hearings and the drafting of articles of impeachment, which will be split up between six House committees. Democrats will then determine whether to bring them before the House of Representatives for a vote, and aim to have the process concluded by the end of this year, indicating they intend to act swiftly.
In the meanwhile, it appears Mr Trump’s real opponent is not Joe Biden or any of the other Democrats vying for the nomination, but Nancy Pelosi. An impeachment inquiry will make it harder for the administration to defy subpoenas, something it has repeatedly done since Democrats won back the House in 2018. Mr Trump may like his chances of turning the situation to his advantage, but he is dependent on the loyalty of Senate Republicans and Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The question then is how far their loyalty will stretch as they read the mood of the American public as even more unflattering revelations likely come to light.
Mr Trump may have wished for an impeachment inquiry as a surefire way to turn American sentiment against the Democrats. But he is likely to find that these first days of the process are the last in which he holds all the trumps.
Video: (c) ABC News (YouTube)