The best defense the Republicans have been able to mount in the impeachment inquiry has been that President Trump was rightly concerned about corruption in Ukraine, and was acting properly in attempting to make sure our military aid did not go to a country where it would just be divvied up by the rich and powerful for themselves.
That is certainly a legitimate concern, and most of us would agree that we don’t want our tax dollars being wasted that way. So was it Trump’s true purpose to root out corruption? If so, that raises a series of questions.
What made him think Zelensky was not already very serious about cleaning up corruption in his country? Zelensky had run for President of Ukraine on an anti-corruption platform, and was elected by a landslide. He is universally praised by the State Department as a good person who is not motivated by selfish gain. What reason could Trump have had, to think Zelensky would so thoroughly betray his supporters?
Why did he approve aid to the previous, corrupt, pro-Putin administration, all without objection or condition?
Why didn’t Trump trust his own Department of Defense? Ukraine had already met all the DoD’s corruption-related requirements, so the military aid had been cleared, even before Trump decided to put a hold on it.
Why did he not mention rooting out corruption as a key concern in his first phone call with Zelensky on April 21? (Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine at the National Security Council, had recommended that he mention it, in the talking points for that call.) Why did he not mention it on July 25 either?
Why did he remove Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine? She had a sterling reputation as a fierce anti-corruption force in Ukraine. He has never really explained why he said she was “bad news”, and in the impeachment inquiry, she was showered with praise by members of both parties. Sure, the President has the right to appoint ambassadors as he chooses, but having recalled her from her post, why take the additional step of smearing her and trashing both her reputation and her work?
Why did he recommend to Zelensky that Yuriy Lutsenko, who is well known to be a corrupt pro-Putin official, be retained in his post as Ukraine’s Prosecutor General? Why would he characterize Lutsenko as “very fair” and someone who had been “treated very badly”? If you want to root out corruption, surely you would not trust that job to someone known to be corrupt. Zelensky could not retain Lutsenko in that post without facing pushback from Zelensky’s own supporters.
Why did Trump’s Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, use the power of his office to help secure a lucrative 50-year oil and gas deal with the Ukrainian government for a pair of his campaign donors? Doesn’t that at least create the impression of possible U.S. corruption?
And why is it that Zelensky still has not gotten that White House meeting?
Sadly, the answer to all these questions is simple. Trump believes Putin, rather than our own State Department. This appears to be yet another favor Trump is doing for Putin. The false narrative that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, and Russia did not, is Putin’s concoction, spewed out by Lutsenko and lapped up by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. If Putin can sell this narrative, he hopes to get a lifting of the sanctions that Obama and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress placed on Russia. He also hopes to get his hands back on a slice of all that money.
What money, you ask? All the oil and gas that goes from Russia to Western Europe flows through Ukraine. Before Zelensky was elected, Putin got a cut of all that, through Russian mob boss Dmitro Firtash. (Firtash is now under indictment in Austria for bribery, and awaiting extradition to the U.S.) And although all 17 of our intelligence agencies and a bipartisan committee in the Senate all concluded that it was Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, Trump believes Putin about that too.
Which raises the most disturbing question of all. Where do Donald Trump’s loyalties actually lie? We have never had to seriously ask this question, about any other president.