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What the Democrats Must Do Now

If they want to succeed against Donald Trump, that is.
October 2, 2019
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds the gavel during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the cloud of a partial federal government shutdown, Pelosi will reclaim her former title as Speaker of the House and her fellow Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives for the second time in eight years. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If the Democrats hope to successfully impeach and convict President Trump, they must make the case to the American people to pressure their Senators. To do that, they must show that what Trump did was a political act with no policy merit to it. As the impeachment hearings are about to begin, there is a long list of questions they must ask and witnesses who must testify.

Why was the military aid to Ukraine withheld? The aid appropriated by Congress and cleared by the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood on behalf of the then-acting Secretary Mark Esper in May. If the secretary of defense had approved of the aid, then, what was the reasoning?

Trump’s cited reason for potentially withholding the aid was Ukraine’s alleged lack of resolve to combat corruption. In his letter approving of the release of the aid, Rood mentions the significant steps Ukraine has taken in this regard.

Was withholding the aid the president’s own action or a recommendation of an adviser, and if so, who? This helps answer the previous question. If an expert on Eurasia recommended this course of action, that suggests policy considerations. If a political adviser did or the president concluded on his own, then there is a political angle.

What led to the ultimate release of the aid? Did Ukraine resume the investigation into Hunter Biden’s business? Did anything change in Ukraine? Was there a “reciprocal” promise made by Zelensky? Or was it due to pressure from policymakers in the Congress and the president’s policy advisers?

Why was the United States Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch recalled exactly on the same day that Volodymyr Zelensky was sworn in as Ukraine’s new president? According to one senior foreign service officer, she is “a thorough-going professional who, by all accounts was doing a first-rate job.” Former Bush and Obama administrations assistant secretaries of state for European and Eurasian affairs David Fried and Phil Gordon also make a defense for her tenure as ambassador. They write that none of their former colleagues “was more professional, capable or nonpartisan than Yovanovitch, who loyally and diligently served administrations from both parties for several decades — including as ambassador in demanding posts such as Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Ukraine. We know her as professional, disciplined and dedicated.” Yovanovitch was incredibly capable in pressuring the Ukrainian government on to fight corruption.

 

Investigation of these questions requires subpoenaing many officials and documents. Here’s a rough draft:

 

Diplomatic communiques (this includes the embassies of Ukraine and the United States in each other’s countries) between the two countries.

Memoranda of the conversations between Presidents Trump and Zelensky.

Policy memos related to the aforementioned military aid to Ukraine

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger whose portfolio includes Europe

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch

Current Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor, Jr., during whose tenure the aid was released

Former Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton

Senior Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council Tim Morrison

White House acting-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney

Rudy Giuliani

Attorney General Bill Barr

Members of Congress, such as Lindsey Graham, who discussed the withholding of military aid to Ukraine with the President.

 

The challenge with this course of action is that, as a national security matter, a lot of the materials are classified, and a lot of these hearings will have to be closed to the public. Declassifying of some of this information could endanger national security and the United States’ relationship with its allies, especially Ukraine.

 

In finding the compromise here, the Democrats need to be very careful to make sure that they don’t sacrifice national security for the removal of the president and, on the other hand, don’t sacrifice justice for national security. It’s a very thin line.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri is a graduate student of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies. He grew up in Iran and left the country in 2011. He is currently seeking political asylum in the United States. Follow him @ShayKhatiri.