Letter: Ex-judge sees instances of law-breaking by Trump

December 13, 2019

President Trump has committed several violations of law as demonstrated in the impeachment hearings. (Violations of law are not required for impeachment but some violations can, certainly, lead to impeachment.)

 

Congress appropriated $391 million in military aid for the Ukraine, a country at war with Russia. Congress required that the State Department and the Department of Defense certify that the Ukrainians, a famously corrupt former member of the Soviet Union, meet certain anti-corruption standards, among other things. Trump’s State and Defense Departments did that. They certified the release of those monies to the Ukraine. 

 

That law also required that the money be provided to the Ukraine within a certain period of time (September 2019). A failure to do so would cancel the funding and require the process to be restarted in the next budget process. Trump has the authority to withhold those monies if he makes certain findings. If so, then he must notify.

 

Trump withheld those monies. He did not say why, he made no findings in accordance with law, and he did not notify Congress. He still has not. He also has withheld a promised  Oval Office meeting with Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president. The meeting was viewed as a statement to the world that the United States, as it had for the five years before VP Biden announced his intent to run for the presidency, was still a strong ally of the Ukraine.

 

Trump’s consigliere, Rudy Giuliani, made it clear that he was working for Trump and that Trump wanted the Ukrainians to announce an investigation of rightwing platform conspiracy theories involving the 2016 US election and corruption allegedly involving Joe and Hunter Biden. The Ukraine didn’t actually have to do an investigation. It just had to announce an investigation into the Bidens.

 

That conspiracy theory was publicly announced by Putin in 2017 during a press conference in Hungary. It was picked up and promulgated by Frank Solomon, a frequent guest on the FOX News platforms, Trump’s favorite viewing medium. The conspiracy theory is obviously believed by Trump.

 

Those conspiracy theories had already been debunked by the American intelligence community. Unfortunately, as Trump said standing next to Putin in Helsinki, he doesn’t believe the American intelligence community. He does believe Putin. I mean, he looked into the eyes of this Russian Communist, former KGB leader, a continuing threat to American democracy, and concluded that Putin would not lie to HIM. Who could criticize this?

 

Trump, against this backdrop, specifically asked the Ukrainian president for these investigations in the now infamous July 25, 2019 telephone call. American diplomats on the call were so distressed about what they heard that the record of the call was buried in top secret servers not usually used for this kind of call. Some contacted attorneys for advice.

 

During that call, according to the transcript released by the White House, when Ukrainian President Zelensky asked about the military aid, President Trump immediately said, “I would like you to do us a favor.” He described his desire to have the Ukrainians investigate the conspiracy theory. He asked the Ukrainians to work with Attorney General Barr and Giuliani. Zelensky agreed, according to the transcript.

 

Trump in that phone call also criticized the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor whom American foreign service officers, as well as European allies, had previously identified as being corrupt. 

Giuliani did not want him fired. Giuliani had worked with the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor previously on behalf of his two clients, Igor and Lev, who are now facing a criminal indictment in New York. The fired Ukrainian prosecutor was exactly the kind of guy that Giuliani wanted to work with to foster the Trump agenda. Trump told the Ukrainian president on July 25 that the firing of the corrupt prosecutor was “really unfair.”

 

Trump finally authorized the release of the military aid monies after he learned that a whistleblower had filed a complaint, Congress was asking questions, and that the press was reporting his conduct 

 

Trump has still not invited the Ukrainian president to the White House. He was quoted by his EU ambassador as saying that he did not “give a f…  about the Ukraine. He wanted the investigations into the Bidens.” Trump does have a scheduled meeting with Putin. The Ukraine is still at war with Russia.

 

Simply put, Trump is accused of using the office of the president to benefit himself. He is accused of asking a foreign government to investigate an American citizen whom Trump then considered to be a candidate for president against him in 2020. Trump is accused of asking a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 federal election. He is accused of holding up the disbursement of Congressionally approved aid and a promised Oval Office meeting in exchange for a foreign promise that would benefit his 2020 bid for re-election.

 

Trump’s reactions to the House hearings?

 

Trump attacked Army Lt. Col. Vindman with name calling. Trump supporters questioned the loyalty of Vindman, who testified in response to a lawfully issued subpoena. He had listened to the phone call as part of his job. The officer was born in the Ukraine, speaks the Ukrainian language, and is an expert on the Ukraine. He is a U.S. citizen. He was brought to the United States at the age of four by a father fleeing the atrocities of the Communist Soviet Union. He was wounded in Iraq when his armored vehicle was blown up by an IED. He received the Purple Heart. 

 

Trump and his supporters also attacked the patriotism of Ambassador Bill Taylor because of his testimony before the committee. Taylor, a 1969 graduate of West Point, was a combat officer in Vietnam and Afghanistan. He has served as a civilian foreign officer in the Ukraine. Taylor has served our country for more than fifty years.

 

It is obvious that proven patriotism is not valued by Trump and his supporters. 

 

Trump described witness Fiona Hill and other witnesses as “human scum.” Trump supporters mocked the British accent of witness Hill. She was born in England, has been a U.S. citizen for thirty years, and is a recognized and respected expert on Russia who has decades of service to our country as a foreign service officer. Trump supporters asked whether any “Americans” were going to testify?

 

Making fun of an American citizen with an accent says a lot about making America great again, doesn’t it? What were the accents of the Founding Fathers before they became Americans?

 

Trump accused the whistleblower of treason because he/she filed a complaint. Those convicted of treason can be put to death. Threatening a whistleblower with death is obstructing justice, a crime.

Every factual statement made by the whistleblower has been substantiated by testimony of others.

 

Trump supporters demand to know the identity of the CIA whistleblower. Clearly, outing the whistleblower would intimidate other witnesses who might wish to come forward to allege or substantiate Trump illegal activity. And you may recall what another Republican did under somewhat similar circumstances.

 

In 2003 an American diplomat, Joseph Wilson, criticized the Bush-Cheney decision to invade Iraq. Wilson was married to Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative. The criticism upset Cheney. His office provided information to a newspaper that lead to the outing of Plame as a CIA operative. It put her life in danger.

 

When was the last time Republicans actually put America first?

 

So what other laws has Trump violated?

 

 

Federal law regarding the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections states that no American shall solicit a foreign national into providing “a thing of value” in connection with a federal, state or local election.

 

Trump, his EU ambassador and his consigliere Giuliani solicited the Ukrainian president’s announcement of an investigation of the Bidens to be used by Trump against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a thing of value. 

 

Our federal constitution lists bribery as an impeachable offense. The Founding Fathers’ description of bribery when they listed it in our law-of-laws was pretty simple. They relied on English law. (This should be important to you Trump supporters who believe in federal judges who say that they are “originalists”.) 

 

The law described an officeholder’s use of the power of his office to obtain a private benefit rather than the public interest as bribery. It’s that simple. It is an abuse of public office for personal gain. Sound familiar? Trump withheld the promise of a meeting in the Oval Office and $391 million in military aid to a country at war with Russia in exchange for a public promise to investigate the Bidens. It’s called bribery.

 

The Trump defenders point out that the Ukrainians got most of the money (88 percent) and did not have to announce investigations into the Bidens. They ignore several realities. The Ukrainians have not received all of the Congressionally approved monies. Ukrainian President Zelensky still has not been invited to the White House as promised. 

 

And most importantly, bribery is simply the act of using public office for personal gain regardless of whether the misconduct was ultimately “successful” from the perspective of the abuser. It’s the solicitation, the mere use of the public office to ask for personal gain, that violates one’s oath.

 

Trump has also obstructed justice by refusing to allow witnesses with direct knowledge of what he has done to testify. He has refused to honor congressional subpoenas for documents. 

 

Nixon did that, too. The U.S. Supreme Court said that he was wrong. He was required to respond in good faith to Congressional subpoenas issued during his impeachment proceedings. A refusal to do so could be regarded as a contempt of Congress. A crime.

 

Trump and his supporters have whined that the impeachment process started without a full vote of the House of Representatives. No rule requires it. But Pelosi then called their bluff.

 

The next complaint was that no direct evidence witnesses were called to testify; only hearsay witnesses. House rules allow both. 

 

When direct witnesses testified, Trump and his supporters whined that their witnesses were not asked to testify. Three of their witnesses did testify. Trump ordered other witnesses not to cooperate.

 

Trump supporters now say that the House committees should take Trump to court and challenge his obstruction of justice. That process takes about 18 months, running into 2021, passing the election,  allowing Trump and his allies to run out the clock.

 

Trump says that the process is unfair and, yet, when invited to participate, he declined. Rather than answering questions under oath, he Tweets and whines to reporters on the White House lawn.

 

When our Founding Fathers wrote that the sole authority to impeach the president was vested in the House of Representatives, they did not say that the president could avoid justice by acting as if he were the king from whose tyranny they had just fought to escape.

 

— Charles Wieland,

 

Former Superior Court Judge,

 

Madera

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