Did President Trump, in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, go all mob boss and, perhaps, not so tactfully, ask for dirt on Joe Biden, a potential 2020 election opponent? Did Trump tie $300-plus million dollars in military hardware, including state of the art missiles earmarked for Ukraine, to defend itself against Russia, to his request for the dish on Biden? Or, are Republicans who say, ‘nothing to see here,’ right and that the President did nothing wrong?
If it’s determined that Trump pulled a clumsy but classic shakedown on Ukrainian President Zelensky, he may have violated federal law and it could cost him his presidency if there’s substance found in the allegation. On the other hand, was their conversation, as Republicans say, just another example of Trump’s ham-handed ‘art of the deal,’ style. The account, released by the White House, at best, is problematic.
“We do a lot for Ukraine…we spend a lot of effort and a lot of time…the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine…I would like you to do us a favor…,” the official transcript shows the President saying to Zelensky in the now famous phone call. Was it a shakedown or, as Republicans read it, just inartful, innocuous Trumpspeak?
The phone call broke the uncertainty on what course Democrats would pursue. Last Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially called for an impeachment inquiry, permission for the House Judiciary Committee to take the first step in determining if there are grounds to draft Articles of Impeachment. Colorado’s congressional delegation is in a partisan divide on the move with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
Here at home, there is a similar divide. But one politician with an intimate connection to the machinations of the House, former Democratic Congressman now Governor Jared Polis, is clear on where he stands. “As a Congressman, Governor Polis voted to begin impeachment hearings. He believes an unbiased, Congressional investigation is appropriate and necessary for holding the President accountable,” said a spokesman for the Governor.
Just a day before Pelosi announced the inquiry, Colorado Democratic Congressman Jason Crow joined six of his freshmen colleagues---each with military or intelligence backgrounds---in condemning the President’s actions. “If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” said the Washington Post op-ed. “We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly.”
Pressure on Pelosi to move ahead on the impeachment inquiry also came from ‘the Squad,’ four freshmen women of color who had reached their tipping point with not only Trump’s recent escapade with the Ukraine President but with his record of dehumanizing minorities. He began his campaign for the office with an unveiled and groundless attack on Mexicans as ‘rapists and drug dealers.’ Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an African-American, also regularly called for impeachment.
Few congressional Republicans found anything amiss in the conversation Trump had with the Ukrainian President. Many said they had not read the transcript, others found refuge in elevators or sprinted past reporters looking for a comment. Former Republican presidential candidate, now Senator Mitt Romney, did neither. He said he was “deeply troubled” by the President’s words. It’s widely thought that what Romney said is what others in his party would like to say but are afraid or unwilling to put on the record.
Safely out of office and mulling the next chapter in his political life, former Republican Senator Jeff Flake half-jokingly spoke about the latest chapter in the Trump presidency. “I heard someone say if there were a private vote there would be 30 Republican votes (to impeach),” he said. “That’s not true. There would be at least 35.” Flake’s new-found bravado is in direct contrast to the fealty he showed Trump when he served in the Senate and voted 90 percent of the time with the President.
But former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez criticized the Democrat’s move. “I was feeling it was a little premature,” Lopez said in a phone interview. “They didn’t seem to have all the information they needed to make a good, informed decision.” The former Parker Mayor was also critical of Speaker Pelosi who he accused of “caving to the left,” and suggested she may be having second thoughts. In addition to opining on Trump, Lopez casually dropped word that he’s planning to challenge Governor Polis in 2022 for the state’s top job.
But it’s not just the transcript with the Ukrainian President that is dogging Trump. A whistleblower’s account of the July 2019 conversation between the two leaders was problematic enough to move White House attorneys to delete the electronic transcript from the server on which it was stored and, instead, file it on a secret server used for the most highly sensitive White House documents.
The whistleblower, a U.S. intelligence official, took the action only after hearing directly from several individuals who listened in real time to the conversation and were concerned the President was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Congress now begins a two-week recess during which time Democrats will be working on making their case for Trump’s impeachment while Republicans will be finetuning their defense of the President. But both sides will also be thinking about what may take place when they return. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has indicated the so far unnamed whistleblower has agreed to testify.