Treaty, foreign aid timing could unravel arguments for Trump impeachment

Joe Biden gives a campaign speech (left) and President Donald Trump pauses during applause at the State of the Union.

WASHINGTON D.C. – As Congressional Democrats push over the two-week break from Congress to sway public opinion in support of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, there are at several major pitfalls to their claims that could be difficult to overcome. Two of those pitfalls have garnered very little coverage in the mainstream media.

Timing of Foreign Aid

A centerpiece of the argument for many on the left is that Trump held up foreign aid to Ukraine to pressure them to investigate the situation where Joe Biden, as Vice President, threatened to withhold U.S. foreign aid if Ukraine did not fire an official that was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company his son Hunter worked for.

Some sources, including one at the New York Times, say that the hold up of the foreign aid was not communicated to officials in Ukraine until a month after the phone call. In addition, the transcript of the call between President Trump and Ukraine President Zelensky shows no mention of a quid pro quo or threat related to foreign aid.

Rep. Mark Meadows, who chairs the U.S. House Freedom Caucus and serves as the Ranking Member of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations – involving oversight jurisdiction over federal agencies, pointed out the problems with the foreign aid claims by impeachment supporters in a retweet of a reporter from the New York Times.

Claims that President Trump used foreign aid on that call rely on a narrative pushed by Rep. Adam Schiff, that Trump used a “shakedown” method whereby he applied pressure without saying anything, but somehow Zelensky understood the point of what he was saying. It’s a curious narrative to push against President Trump because he is known for being a very direct communicator.

Beyond the actual timing of the supposed foreign aid quid pro quo, there is also the matter of President Zelensky’s very public statement to the press last week that he did not feel “pushed” (pressured) on the call.

The irony of the claims for impeachment is that Joe Biden publicly stated that he used the threat of withdrawing foreign aid to force the firing of a top Ukrainian official when he was Vice President. Biden’s claim was made at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting and the video has been widely disseminated, even being featured in a new Trump campaign ad.

The Ukrainian official Joe Biden successfully had fired with the threat of a loss of foreign aid was reportedly investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that Joe Biden’s son Hunter was being paid at least $50,000 per month to work for.

Clinton-era treaty puts Trump on solid ground

A treaty signed by President Bill Clinton and ratified by the United States Senate in 1999-2000 provides for the United States and Ukraine government to provide one another mutual legal assistance in a wide-ranging scope of criminal matters.

Writing to the U.S. Senate when he transmitted the Treaty, President Bill Clinton said, “The Treaty is one of a series of modern mutual legal assistance treaties being negotiated by the United States in order to counter criminal activities more effectively. The Treaty should be an effective tool to assist in the prosecution of a wide variety of crimes, including drug trafficking offenses. The Treaty is self-executing. It provides for a broad range of cooperation in criminal matters. Mutual assistance available under the Treaty includes: taking of testimony or statements of persons; providing documents, records, and articles of evidence; serving documents; locating or identifying persons; transferring persons in custody for testimony or other purposes; executing requests for searches and seizures; assisting in proceedings related to restraint, confiscation, forfeiture of assets, restitution, and collection of fines; and any other form of assistance not prohibited by the laws of the requested state. I recommend that the Senate give early and favorable consideration to the Treaty and give its advice and consent to ratification.”

As Clinton’s letter describes, the scope of the treaty is very broad and covers virtually all serious crimes. It also includes requirements of confidentiality if the investigation could compromise ongoing investigations in the “requested” nation, which in the Biden/Burisma investigation would be Ukraine. You can read the text of the treaty by clicking here.

The subject of the treaty sparked an interesting exchange on Fox News’ afternoon television show “The Five” this week between Jesse Watters and Juan Williams. Watters produced the treaty, arguing that it gave President Trump solid legal ground to request Ukraine look into the Biden situation. After a back and forth, Juan Williams is heard saying, “Okay, okay, you win. I give up.” You can watch the exchange on the treaty below.

Because Nancy Pelosi has yet to move forward with an actual vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry, it is unclear how far the effort will go. Some observers think Pelosi made the announcement to mollify the left-win of her base and see what develops. It is possible that Democratic members of Congress in conservative and swing districts will return after break without much of an appetite to impeach.

On the other hand, others believe that the impeachment effort is a full-blown effort to take down Trump. In either instance, Pelosi walks a precarious line. She must find a way to satisfy the more extreme elements of her political coalition while keeping faith with voters who reside in more moderate segments of the American political electorate that are, according to polling, skeptical of impeachment.

If the impeachment gambit falls apart as previous Democratic efforts to take down President Trump have, Pelosi and vulnerable members of her caucus have precious little time to recoup and craft a new argument telling Americans why they are the better choice to lead the United States.

Historically, Presidents who preside over a booming economy and relative peace are successful in their re-election efforts.

Handing an incumbent President with a strong economy an issue such as an impeachment vote that appears likely to fail and is seen as a witch hunt by a majority of Americans could backfire in a major way on Pelosi.

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