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A Phone Call and A Whistleblower: Did the President commit an impeachable offense?

On Aug. 12, 2019, a whistleblower filed a complaint against President Donald Trump which was shared with the acting Director of National Intelligence and then Congress. This whistleblower is an anonymous CIA operative whose complaint was related to a call made by the President to Volodymyr Zelensky (the President of Ukraine) on July 25, 2019. The whistleblower alleges that Trump used the “power of his office to solicit interference in the 2020 election” and that the White House made an effort to “lock down” records on the call onto a secure server. The complaint also indicates that the whistleblower was “not a direct witness” and gathered information from “colleagues’ accounts.” 

Phone calls between heads of states are classified and not privy to the public. However, on Sept. 24, 2019, Trump, in an effort to vindicate himself, declassifi ed the notes taken by those present in the White House Situation Room during the phone call (this transcript is now available to the public). In the phone call, Trump and Zelensky discuss the latter’s success in the Ukraine as well as the United States’ aid and effort given to the Ukraine. Zelensky praises Trump, saying that he is a “great teacher” and that the Zelensky campaign “used quite a few of your skills and knowledge.” Trump asks two things of Zelensky: first that he look into CrowdStrike, a California-based security firm which determined that Russian agents had hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) server and stole emails, purportedly to aid the Trump campaign. There have been reports that Ukraine is linked to this DNC hack. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into the dismissal of former Ukrainian General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin. 

Shokin had been investigating the owner of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, since 2012. Then-vice president Joe Biden, among others, claimed that Shokin was not adequately pursuing corruption and called for his dismissal. On a visit to Kiev in Dec. 2015, Biden threatened to hold back $1 million in loan guarantees that were to be given by the US to Ukraine, saying “If the prosecutor’s not fired, you’re not getting the money.” Shokin was dismissed in Mar. 2016. Biden’s son Hunter served on the executive board of Burisma Holdings from 2014 to 2019. Shokin stated that plans for the Burisma investigations “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.” Questions have circulated as to whether or not Biden sought to have Shokin dismissed in order to protect his son. 

In response to this, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that formal impeachment inquiries would begin. Since the beginning of his presidency, many have called for Trump’s impeachment. Pelosi and other Democrats assert that Trump committed a crime by asking Zelensky to investigate CrowdStrike and Biden and engaged in a quid pro quo, or a favor granted in return for something else. Most members of the House (currently majority Democrat) support an impeachment inquiry. Similarly, Biden asserted that Trump is “shooting holes in the Constitution.” Republican House members, however, disagree. Representative Jodey Arrington (Texas) asserted that Democrats have “blood lust for impeaching our President.” 

So did Trump commit a crime? Is this phone call an impeachable offense? Impeachment is not something to be taken lightly, no matter who the President is. These questions will be important to Americans as the impeachment issue continues to play out. 

Sources: CBS News, Reuters,  NY Times.

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