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November 20, 2019

Presidency in turmoil


November 20, 2019

This week the impeachment inquiry into President Trump moved into a new phase with public hearings by witnesses who have knowledge of the president’s communication with Volodmyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine.

The matter was brought to Congress a few weeks ago when a ‘whistleblower’ complained in writing that the US president was withholding approved US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating Hunter Biden and his father Joe Biden, his presumed rival in the 2020 election.

Evidence in the case is being systematically gathered and brought before the public. Hearings are being conducted by the house intelligence committee. Interestingly there are many government officials such as former national security advisor John Bolton, chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who would have firsthand knowledge of the matter.

However, the White House has forbidden any of its current or former officials from testifying. It is not clear whether these officials can be forced to testify by Congress. At a minimum, it would involve lengthy litigation that the intelligence committee, at the moment, is trying to avoid.

Even as witnesses are testifying before Congress, the president continues to tweet about them, trying to undercut the testimony and question their credibility. This prompted the intelligence committee chair to warn that witness intimidation is a serious crime. At a minimum, the president can be easily accused of obstructing the work of Congress.

As this drama unfolds, many other threads connected to the president continue to come to light. Roger Stone, a longtime associate of Donald Trump was just convicted of multiple crimes related to his role in facilitating the leaks of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election. He was accused of lying to investigators and to Congress, and tampering with witnesses. He is the seventh person closely connected to Donald Trump who has been convicted over the past several months, including his former lawyer, national security advisor and campaign manager. The president himself could be accused of these acts but under US law the president is uniquely immune to these charges in a regular court of law. This is what has led Congress to open impeachment proceedings.

In the 2016 election many people voted for Donald Trump because he was not a regular politician who came up through the system. These voters were frustrated that the political system in the country was not working for the common citizen. They wanted someone who would blow up the system. And, from the very first day President Trump has been trying to blow up the system and much more. It is doubtful that in voting for Donald Trump voters expected behaviour that would be so deeply detrimental to the interests of the country and the well-being of its citizens.

Trump has shown little regard for norms of decency, or even rule of law. Traditional allies of the country are left scratching their heads as to whether they can still rely on long-standing treaties and conventions. Telling the truth is no longer an expected quality from the leader of the free world. In fact, a reputable Washington newspaper has been documenting the lies and misleading statements made by the president over the course of his tenure and the number has surpassed 10,000.

It will be many years before we are able to see the full negative impact of such behavior on the country and its alliances. They will continue to unfold for many years to come.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

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