Opinion: Democrats Prove That Trump Is the Shakedown President

It was clear that the only interest of Acting Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent was to state the facts of what they knew and saw. Both career Foreign Service officers corroborated each other on the only issue that matters here that Trump tried to shakedown a foreign government and strategic ally for his own personal gain.

We also learned that 14,000 Ukrainians lost their lives fighting Russian aggression since March 2014. So when Republicans try to argue no harm no foul, they are showing what little regard they have for a strategic ally. Ukraine stands with us and depends on our help to defend itself from a relentless Vladimir Putin, who is only interested in reconstituting the Soviet Union.

Donald J. Trump attempted to bribe and extort Ukraine into giving him dirt on the Bidens to give him an unfair advantage in the 2020 election.

The fact is others within the White House apparatus acted to shake promised aid loose without Ukraine succumbing to Trump’s proposition. That doesn’t remove the fact that what Trump did was bribery, extortion, and an abuse of power, all of which he can be impeached, convicted, and removed from office for.

So when Jim Jordan donned his prop “look at how smart I am” glasses and tried to show off his Trump U law degree, it was inevitable that he would, as Jason Easley reported, fall on his face.

And Jim Jordan was supposed to be Trump’s wing nut … er … wingman.
There are profound differences between reading transcripts and watching witnesses interact with the professional attorneys who did the first round of questioning and the members in subsequent rounds of questioning. By hearing the tones of voices and looking at facial expressions, one develops a better understanding of who is credible and who is not.

So when you see Republicans indulge in histrionics, while the witnesses answer consistently and truthfully, regardless of who asks the questions, you know that the clown car ran out of gas way before the end of the hearing.
We’re learning layers of detail among the broad strokes of transcripts from previous testimony and reams of analysis and punditry. We’re also seeing the Republicans show what happens when you don’t have the facts or the law on your side.

Friday’s testimony by Maria Yovanovitch, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, will add yet more layers about who knew what about the shakedown and when. She will also tell a story that is familiar to Trump watchers. It’s about the way the shakedown President uses the same tactics, be it with staff or foreign countries. This matters when determining if Trump shook Ukraine down or if, as Republicans are trying to argue, he’s just a good president wanting to end corruption.

If Ambassador Yovanovitch’s previous testimony indicates anything, she will elaborate on the late night phone call ordering her home because she was in danger. She will tell us that it was her understanding that Trump wanted dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for the military aid that makes it possible for Ukraine to defend itself against an aggressive Russia and a meeting with the White House.

The meeting with the White House might not sound like a big deal, unless you are the new leader of a small country, a leader who won election with a promise to defeat the corruption that goes with Soviet- and now Putin-style tyranny. At the time, there was no better validation of your credibility than a meeting with the American president. That was always true before Trump, even if the shine has worn off a bit since Trump.

The bottom line is that Trump was in a position to make demands and Ukraine was and remains vulnerable – with people dying every day in the war against Russia.  Before the infamous phone call, Trump ordered that the funds for military aid be blocked.

Even though it would mean hurting his own political credibility, President Zelensky indicated he would begin the investigation that Trump wanted and was close to making the announcement of that investigation, as Trump demanded per Trump’s demands. But the promised aid was released on John Bolton’s orders,  making it unnecessary for Zelensky to submit to Trump and his typically cruel, mafia-like tactics.

But this is not how we do things, at least it wasn’t until the Trump administration.

We’ve seen countless examples of Trump’s shakedowns – beginning with his humiliation of staff before unceremoniously firing them while they were far from home. He left James Comey stranded at an FBI event. He left Reince Priebus on a tarmac. He summoned Rex Tillerson home from a trip to Africa in the middle of the night to fire him.

One could argue his behavior has improved a little bit because at least he didn’t strand Ambassador Yovanovitch in Ukraine. But he still though, he seems to have a thing about summoning people home in the middle of the night.

But the point is, she has a compelling story about how she was treated when she refused to have any part in the shakedown. It rings true not only because she has a reputation as someone who is credible, but also because the way she was treated is consistent with the way Trump treated other people.

As importantly, Yovanovitch explains Rudy Giuliani’s role in the shakedown
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Q: When did you first become aware that Rudy Giuliani had an interest in or was communicating with anyone in Ukraine?

A: Probably around November, December timeframe of 2018.

Q: And describe those circumstances when you first learned about it.

A: Basically, it was people in the Ukrainian Government who said that Mr. Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general, was in communication with Mayor Giuliani, and that they had no plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things including to me.

Had Yovanovitch been an ambassador for Russia, China or North Korea, this wouldn’t be so shocking. But American presidents didn’t threaten American ambassadors – until Trump.

Trump and his allies, including Giuliani, began their smear campaign in March of this year after two of Giuliani’s allies, currently on trial, said they want a different ambassador because they wanted business dealings in Ukraine. Lutsenko gave an interview to John Solomon in March to aid in the smear campaign, saying that in 2016, Ambassador Yovanovitch gave him a list of people not to prosecute in 2016. This was one of several lies Trump’s allies used in their effort to smear her.

Allies at Fox, including Trump’s shadowy advisor Sean Hannity,  chimed in with the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine helped Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Not to be left out of the clown show, Don Jr. smeared the ambassador via twitter with an “article” calling for Yovanovitch’s removal.

The fact that Junior was in on the smear was especially difficult for Yovanovitch, who astutely observed in testimony

“If you have the President’s son saying” that, “it makes it hard to be a credible ambassador.”

That’s when Yovanovitch asked the State Department to issue a statement of defending her.

Secretary of State Pompeo declined to do so, because having the balls to defend his staff would only mean it could be “undermined” by Trump in a tweet.

I can comment about how sleazy and disgusting those tactics were and how consistent they are with the way Trump treats anyone who doesn’t do exactly what he wants the way he wants it, even when the thing he wants is illegal.

But it’s more important that we hear from the person who experienced it. It’s important that Ambassador Yovanovitch tell us why she felt threatened by Donald Trump and still does. Per the Washington Post:

“In one of the most gripping passages of her testimony, which took place Oct. 11, Marie Yovanovitch said that she remained worried that she would be a target of retaliation by Trump, who referred to her in his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president as “bad news” and someone who was “going to go through some things.”

“I was very concerned” upon reading Trump’s words when the rough transcript of the call was released, Yovanovitch testified. “I still am.” Asked whether she felt threatened, she replied, “Yes.”

And it’s important for us to listen to her with two questions in mind. Is this the way we want our president to treat our diplomats and our allies in the name of personal gain that does not benefit the country at all?

My answer is no. We don’t want a president who will compromise our national interests and our national security for his or her personal interests. The minute we give in to that, we’ve lost everything worth having about America.

Do we want a president or a mafia Don? I vote for having a president.