​​Vol. XVII, No. 200, August 2018​​

Trump Should Be Impeached. Are There
Republicans with Spine Who Will Do It?


By M. P. PRABHAKARAN












 
 
 


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U.S. President Donald Trump (second from left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (third from left) arriving for their joint news conference in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.
(Picture reproduced courtesy Doug Mills/ The New York Times) 



President Donald Trump has already committed crimes that are impeachable under the U.S. Constitution. Apolitical Americans are demanding that he be impeached right away. Are there Republicans with spine in U.S. Congress who will initiate the process without wasting any more time? They don’t have to wait until special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completes his investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and into the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during that election.
 
Demands for Trump’s impeachment became louder in the wake of his disgraceful performance at the joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. Most Americans were appalled to see the president of their country fawning before the Russian dictator, who is also a murderous thug. They bowed their heads in shame when they heard the president challenge the findings of the intelligence community of his own country, in the presence of the man who has been implicated in those findings. Nothing comparable to that has ever happened in the history of their country, they all say.
 
The press conference followed a secret one-on-one meeting of the two leaders, with only two translators present. Except for some stooges of Trump, all Americans had expected him to cancel the hastily arranged meeting, because, only a week earlier, the Mueller investigation referred to above had taken a critical turn: It had indicted 12 officers of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, for their role in their country’s attack on America’s electoral system. The 29-page indictment detailed how these officers, at the behest of their president, hacked into the computers of over 300 people working for Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and of the Democratic Party itself; stole thousands of emails and other documents; and used them to prepare anti-Clinton propaganda material. They opened fake social-media accounts to release the material to the public. (At this writing, Facebook, the social-media site that has the widest reach in the U.S., has announced the closing of 32 fake accounts and their respective web pages, on suspicion of being linked to Russians. The fake accounts were opened to disrupt the mid-term election that that is only three months away.) President Trump, who has been ridiculing the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “hoax,” paid no heed to the indictment and went ahead with the planned summit with his favorite Russian dictator.
 
Putin could not have asked for a better warm-up to the summit than the Twitter message Trump issued on the morning of the summit. In that message, he blamed the years of tension with Russia on the “foolishness and stupidity” of his own country, as well as the “Rigged Witch Hunt,” meaning the Mueller investigation. Americans are anxious to know what the two leaders discussed at their one-on-one secret meeting. What little they have known so far came to them in dribs and drabs from the government-controlled Russian press, not from the free press of their own country. The free press of America, which is the envy of the rest of the world, is being lambasted by Trump as "the enemy of the people." It puts out only "fake news," he keeps saying, to the delight of Putin and his ilk. Does Mr.Trump know that an attack on the free press is an attack on the First Amendment to the Constitution, which he has sworn to “preserve, protect and defend.” The time will come when he will be made to pay a heavy price for this deplorable behavior. But the words he uttered at the press conference that followed the Helsinki meet and the way he conducted himself in the presence of the man, who ordered the attack on the very democratic foundation of his own country, annexed Crimea, is supporting rebels in Ukraine and defending the murderous Assad regime in Syria, and has poisoned his opponents both at home and abroad, call for action right now.
 
Standing next to that man, Trump challenged the conclusion of the Justice Department, the intelligence community and both houses of the legislature of his own country. Their conclusion was that Russia had attacked the United States during the 2016 presidential election. The attack, which took the form of hacking into the digital devices used in the election, was called cyberattack. It was an attack on the very democratic foundation on which the country is built. As such, it was an attack on the country itself. Despite the irrefutable evidence of the attack contained in the indictment, Trump repeated his ridicule that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt,” this time in the presence of the man who necessitated it.
 
Putin, as was expected, denied that his country had anything to do with the hacking. But he did admit, in his answer to a reporter’s question, that he wanted Trump, and not his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, to win the election. The reason for his preference, he added, was that Trump had “talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.” To a follow-up question, put to Trump, whether he trusted Putin more than his own intelligence community, Trump gave this reply: “I have confidence in both parties. I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
 
That response, and his responses to many other questions, drew strong protests not only from Democrats, but from some Republicans as well. Some even characterized some of his words “treasonous” and called for his impeachment. Let’s examine whether those words rise to the level of treason.
 
“Treason” Under the U.S. Constitution
 
Under the U.S. Constitution, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid or Comfort."

Russia is the enemy and it has been waging war against the U.S. for some time now. As stated above, it is a new kind of war, something unheard of at the time the U.S. Constitution was written. The term used to refer to it is “cyberwar.” If it can be established that cyberwar falls within the purview of war as defined in the Constitution, President Trump’s performance in Helsinki was treasonous, and the demand for his impeachment is justified. He called Putin’s denial of the cyberwar “extremely strong and powerful;” praised him as a “good competitor,” hastening to add that “the word competitor is a compliment;” and denigrated his own country as “foolish” for allowing its relationship with Russia to deteriorate. If words like these don’t give comfort to an enemy, what will? The charge of treason leveled against Trump is a valid one.
 
There was also a moment when he uttered something which even his lackeys back home found loathsome. He did it when Putin offered, while responding to a reporter’s question, to allow the Mueller team to interview the 12 Russians indicted by the special counsel in exchange for allowing Russian investigators to interview Bill Browder and those close to him. Mr. Browder, a billionaire, born in the U.S. but now a British citizen (which fact Putin didn’t seem to know), has been at the top of the list of Putin’s foreign enemies for 10 years. Trump welcomed what Putin said as “an incredible offer.” 
 
How did Bill Browder make the list of Putin’s enemies? Browder himself has answered the question. Published in an article titled “Viewpoint: The View from the Top of Putin’s Enemies List,” in the July 30, 2018, issue of TIME magazine, the answer is: “Putin almost never utters the names of his enemies – except for mine, which lately seems to be very much on his mind. Why? Because I am the person responsible for lobbying the Obama Administration to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012. The law allows the U.S. to freeze the assets and withhold the visas of people who are violating human rights in Russia. The act was named for my lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Moscow jail in 2009 after uncovering a massive $230 million Russian government corruption scheme – one we have since traced to Putin’s cronies.”
 
Since the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Russia has been reeling from the punishing sanctions imposed on it by the Obama administration, and re-imposed by the Trump administration after a great deal of arm-twisting by both Democrats and Republicans. Several European allies of the U.S. have expressed solidarity with it by passing their own versions of the Magnitsky Act and imposing sanctions on Russia. Many other countries around the world are also in the process of taking similar steps. No wonder Putin detests Bill Browder. Browder's TIMES article also gives a clue to why Trump did not have a word of criticism for Putin and was obsequious toward him throughout the news conference.
 
Trump’s Links to Russian Oligarchs
 
Rumors have been rife that Donald Trump’s business activities in Russia were bankrolled by Russian oligarchs. Some of them could as well be “Putin’s cronies” that Browder referred to in his article. The fear of his questionable dealings with those cronies being exposed may be the reason behind Trump’s persistent refusal to release his tax returns. The same fear may be what stands in the way of his confronting Putin for the election meddling. That also explains his tirade against the Mueller investigation which, among other things, has been looking into Trump’s business activities in Russia.

We will know more about those activities and about Trump’s links to Russian oligarchs as the trial of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, progresses. The trial is going on in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, as I write this. This is the first trial stemming from Mueller's Russia probe, though the crimes Manafort is charged with have nothing to do with the Russian meddling in the U.S. election. He is charged with tax evasion and bank fraud. The 32 charges he is facing arose largely from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.

Manafort’s main client in Ukraine was Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician whom he helped become president of Ukraine in 2010. Since his removal from power in February 2014, Yanukovych has been living in exile in Russia. Manafort also worked for some pro-Russian, pro-Yanukovych Ukrainian oligarchs. Payments for his work came through bank accounts in Cypress, which he did not show in his tax returns. Manafort’s defense team says that those accounts were opened by the Ukrainian oligarchs who were his clients. Ukrainian oligarchs’ links to Russian oligarchs are well-documented. The possibility of some of them being linked to Donald Trump cannot be ruled out.

The star prosecution witness in the case is Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime partner in the political consultancy work, who had also worked as number two person in Trump’s presidential campaign, when Manafort was its chairman. He stayed on with the campaign even after Manafort was removed from it when controversy over his work in Ukraine erupted. While Manafort decided to fight the charges against him, Gates pleaded guilty and offered to cooperate with the prosecution. He is now one of the 35 prosecution witnesses. 
 
Since the Manafort trial began, Trump has been going berserk. He and his attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, have intensified their tirade against the Mueller investigation. Trump has even asked attorney general Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller and call off the investigation. People are surprised that the man who pilloried Sessions for his recusal from the Russia probe is now asking him to end the probe. 
 
Russia’s Offer of “Dirt” on Hillary Clinton
 
The media was abuzz throughout last week with a new revelation on the controversial meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer, at Trump Tower, New York, in June 2016. The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, reportedly has strong ties to the Kremlin. The meeting was held in pursuance of an email Trump Jr. received from Veselnitskaya, offering some “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The dirt was supposedly gathered by Russian intelligence. The meeting was attended by high-ranking officials of the Trump campaign, including chairman Manafort.
 
Donald Trump had said all along that he knew nothing about the meeting, held at his own New York residence, which was also his campaign headquarters at the time. Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer, confidant and fixer, who fell out with him recently, threw a bombshell last week, saying that Trump was lying. If Cohen has concrete evidence to prove that Trump had prior knowledge of the meeting, that will take the Mueller team a step closer to concluding that the Trump campaign did collude with Russia.
 
Among the numerous documents confiscated during the FBI raidon Cohen’s apartment in Manhattan, in April, when Cohen was Trump's atorney, were dozens of tapes containing recorded conversations between the two. It was through the airing of one such tape, leaked to CNN, that another lie of Trump's got exposed. The lie related to an affair Trump had with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model and the payment to her of $150,000 as hush money to buy her silence about the affair. Until the tape, containing Trump's conversation with Cohen about how to pay the money, was aired, Trump had kept dening that he had any affair with Ms. McDougal.

The McDougal story broke out in the wake of the controversy stirred by another Trump lie about another affair of his. The woman involved in that affair was is a pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels. The hush money paid to her was $130,000. Here again, the middleman was Michael Cohen. How Cohen raised the money to pay the porn star and what made her break the silence about the affair and expose another Trumpian lie were juicy topics of gossip in the media as well as in political circles for several months. Though the econtroversy has not derailed his presidency, Trump is not out of the woods as yet. Stormy Dniels has taken the matter to court. Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing her in the case, also represents three other women who claim that they had affairs with Trump, too. All three, Avenatti has said to the media, were paid “hush money” before the 2016 election. We will hear more juicy stories when those cases go on trial.

Trump has expressed shock that his own personal attorney had been secretly taping his conversations with him. He is also afraid that having been a longtime associate, Cohen may spill the beans on many more of his personal, business and political activities during his testimony. Investigators are examining Cohen’s role in the payment of hush money to women during the 2016 campaign and whether such payments violated campaign finance laws. More than anyone else, Cohen knows that he could be implicated in many questionable activities Trump was involved in as a real estate tycoon. So, his offer to cooperate with the investigators is understandable.
 
A panic-stricken Trump has launched a Twitter tirade against the Mueller investigation. He is very much aware of the disastrous consequences of what Cohen may reveal to the authorities. His tirade against the Mueller investigation has now taken the form of a character assassination campaign against Mueller himself. His personal attorney now is Rudolf Giuliani, a former New York mayor and himself a federal prosecutor once. Giuliani has been making himself a laughingstock by saying stupid and contradictory things in defense of his client. The latest stupid thing he said was that even if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, "collusion is not a crime." I leave it to legal experts to tutor him on that. What he and his client don’t seem to realize is that their attacks on the special counsel could be construed as obstruction of justice, which is a sold ground for impeachment.
 
Conclusion
 
I can go and on to stress the point that the demand for impeachment of President Trump is a well-founded one. Apart from treason, which we discussed above, “bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors” are also grounds for impeachment under the Constitution. We already discussed some of the activities and utterances of Trump that fall within that area. By the time the Muller team completes its work, we will surely learn of many more of them reach the level of impeachability. Remember, we are talking about a man who, according to The Washington Post, utters 6.5 lies a day, on average. He doesn’t know when he lies that some of them could be perjurious, which is another ground for impeachment.
 
If Congress is serious about impeaching Trump, it doesn’t have to wait until the Russia probe is completed. It already has ample material to initiate the process. Alas, it won’t happen as long as the composition of the present Congress is what it is. It is Republican-controlled, and most Republicans are too timid to stand up to Trump. His modus operandi is such that even a mafia don would want to learn a lesson or two from him. He has been running the country as if it were part of his sprawling business empire.
 
Will some Republicans in Congress prove that they have spine by coming forward to initiate the process of impeachment? Any effort on the part of Democrats will get nowhere, because they are in a minority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The initiative should come from Republicans. They owe it to their country to act before it is too late. And they owe it to the Constitution which they have sworn to “support and defend … against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
 
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(First published on August 2, 2018. It has since been slightly edited.)

(Comments from readers are welcome. Send the comments to 
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Books by M. P. Prabhakaran

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