Trump’s Criminal Presidency
Another week of testimony and news developments has shown that President Donald Trump’s presidency is a criminal enterprise at heart. In Wednesday’s first public impeachment hearing, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent detailed Trump’s efforts to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for help in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, Roger Stone’s conviction on seven counts for obstructing the Russia investigation more directly tied the president to collusion in the 2016 election—and suggests Trump may have lied to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Wednesday’s hearing confirmed that Trump extorted Ukraine for personal political gain.
- Taylor and Kent confirmed that Trump withheld desperately needed military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine while demanding that Zelensky publicly announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents.
- Both testified that Trump’s decision to withhold aid, which Taylor described as “counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do” in Ukraine, put lives at risk and jeopardized American interests for no reason other than personal political gain.
- Taylor also brought new evidence to light: a previously undisclosed phone call between Trump and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, in which Trump repeated his demands that Ukraine investigate his political opponents.
- According to the Associated Press, a second U.S. embassy staffer also overheard Sondland’s call with Trump, corroborating Taylor’s new testimony.
On Friday, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch described how her fight against corruption in Ukraine made her a target for Ukrainian officials and the president’s own lawyers.
- Yovanovitch made powerful enemies in Ukraine as she fought corruption, one of whom was Ukraine’s corrupt prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko.
- As a result, Lutsenko sought to get her removed and hired Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Rudy Giuliani and members of Trump’s legal team, to foment the smear campaign that led to her removal.
- Trump eventually recalled Yovanovitch after his allies convinced him that she was standing in the way of Giuliani’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents.
- On the July 25 call, Trump praised the corrupt Lutsenko, saying he was “was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair,” while attacking Yovanovitch and saying she would “go through some things” as repercussions for her fight against corruption.
Trump committed more crimes during the hearing, attempting to intimidate Yovanovitch as she testified to his previous intimidation.
- During Friday’s hearing, in which Yovanovitch testified that she interpreted Trump’s reference to her as a “threat,” Trump tweeted another attack on her, saying, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”
- Yovanovitch defended herself in real time, reiterating her long track record of exemplary work to rebut the president’s clear effort to intimidate not only her but any other U.S Department of State official who might testify against him.
Meanwhile, Stone’s conviction implicated Trump more directly than ever before in his 2016 campaign’s collusion with Russia.
- Stone was found guilty on seven counts for obstructing justice, intimidating witnesses, and lying to Congress about his 2016 backchannel communications with WikiLeaks and his advance knowledge of upcoming email dumps with the specific intent of protecting Trump.
- Witnesses in the trial, including Steve Bannon and Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, testified that Stone was in continual contact with the Trump campaign, including with Trump himself, about what WikiLeaks planned to release to help Trump win.
- We already knew Trump was on board with Russian interference—he did publicly call on Russia to find his opponents’ “missing emails”—but Stone’s trial and conviction show that Trump was more actively involved in the campaign’s coordination with WikiLeaks than was previously known.
- It also suggests that Trump lied to investigators: In written answers to Mueller’s questions, Trump said he “[did] not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign”—both things that prosecutors allege happened.
Trump has surrounded himself with crooks—many of whom are now in legal trouble.
- During the Mueller investigation, Trump’s campaign chairman, first national security adviser, and personal lawyer all pleaded guilty to crimes they committed to cover up the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia in 2016.
- Trump’s current legal team is also in legal jeopardy: Rudy Giuliani is reportedly under investigation for his work representing Trump in Ukraine, while Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were helping Giuliani with that work, have already been indicted for campaign finance violations. Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty, and Giuliani denies any wrongdoing.
Trump is personally implicated not only in his subordinates’ crimes but also in crimes of his own. Along with his efforts at extortion, bribery, and illegally soliciting campaign assistance from a foreign government, there is also evidence that Trump:
- Obstructed justice by attempting to fire Mueller, dangling pardons, and coordinating with witnesses
- Violated campaign finance law by orchestrating a hush-money scheme to silence his former mistresses
- Built his business empire on a foundation of tax evasion, money laundering, and other financial crimes, as Michael Cohen testified to in February
- Has defied the Constitution by accepting payments and other emoluments from foreign governments at his many hotels
- Is currently obstructing Congress’ impeachment inquiry by blocking witnesses from testifying
As Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wrote in The New York Times, “The evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump is overwhelming.” It’s time for Trump to be held accountable for his criminal presidency.