It was a phone call that might end up costing him the presidency. The transcript of Donald Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25 features an unbelievable plethora of misdeeds, from abusing the power of his office to violating his presidential oath—all of it compounded by his promise to restore aid to a foreign country, which he had conveniently ordered frozen just a few days before the conversation. It’s clear-cut case of blackmail.
In these circumstances, how can one not proceed on the road to impeachment? The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, approved the opening of an impeachment inquiry after having resisted months of pressure from House Democrats that was gaining increasing momentum—until the Ukraine scandal broke and changed everything.
The Ukrainian affair, in its sensational day-by-day unfolding, appears to be more serious for Trump than Russiagate, which fizzled out in a strange limbo after the deposition of Special Counsel Mueller before Congress.
However, there is an obvious paradox when we try to put together the stories that these scandals tell: Trump seems to be conspiring both with Russia and with its top regional adversary at the same time. While The Donald is capable of the most amazing U-turns, this would be quite a feat of flexibility, even for him. The fact is that, one way or another, the Democratic Party believes, at all levels, that the judicial path is the preferable one to get the Republican president on the ropes—although, admittedly, his blatant misdeeds in this case leave no other course of action.
Impeachment is an inevitable choice, and for many good reasons, but it is unfortunately destined to absorb the greatest part of the Democrats’ energies, at a point when the party’s activists and most of the Democratic candidates running in the primaries for the presidential nomination are trying to build a campaign and a political platform with true substance, around strong and popular proposals, such as the right to healthcare for all and free college education.
Moreover, the Ukrainian case, unlike Russiagate, has elements that the more thoughtful among the Democrats are seeing as bringing great risks for their party. The scandal ultimately centers on a very prominent figure: Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States and the frontrunner in the race for the nomination. Trump is accusing Biden of having lobbied for the dismissal of the Ukrainian attorney general who was investigating the oil company Burisma, where his second son, Hunter Biden, worked. This is the theory that Trump was pushing in the infamous phone call.
Now, from the Ukrainian point of view, it is even more important to resume the investigation against Hunter Biden with full force—and with a new attorney general, who, as Zelensky promised on the phone call with Trump, “will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically [into] the company that you mentioned in this issue.”
So, while the siege against the current occupant of the White House continues in Washington, the Biden case will only grow in prominence in Kiev: two scandals feeding off each other, in a way which stands to benefit Donald Trump more than Biden, who has been seen as his likely Democratic challenger.
A further complication is that all this is taking place during the ongoing fight for the Democratic Party nomination. Biden is visibly losing ground in the polls, after starting off solidly in the lead, with a large advantage over Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the other seven competitors.
He has gone down in the polls due to some bad performances, but also because all the others have de facto joined up against him, in order to render a race that some had thought was already over more competitive. Currently, Warren is surging, and has even surpassed Biden in one recent poll. What will happen in the coming debates among the contenders for the Democratic nomination? How will the “Biden affair” play in presidential race? If Trump wasn’t in the picture, the allegations against Biden’s second son would end up, one way or another, at the center of the fight between the Democratic candidates. In the current circumstances, will Biden’s opponents rise up in his defense?
Furthermore, these events are taking place against the backdrop of an impeachment procedure which has gained great momentum after the Ukrainian scandal, but which still has to contend with resistance from a not-insignificant minority of 31 House Democrats elected in swing districts located in red states, with mostly Republican constituents, who are wary of angering the people who voted for them, but also voted for Trump.
However, the developments on Wednesday seem to have marked a crucial shift: for the first time, over 218 representatives have publicly declared themselves for impeachment or have signaled they were open to voting to impeach Trump. 218 votes are needed for the measure to pass the House, and the current count in favor of impeachment, as of Thursday night, stands at 219 (including one Republican).
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign of claiming victimhood is again in full swing, casting himself as the victim of a witch hunt by the Democrats. The incandescent political environment will definitely shift the focus away from the issues that divide the US, which will have to choose for the first time between very different options for how the future of its society and its government will look.
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