US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly
Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP

Having barely survived the Special Counsel Robert Mueller probe into charges of collusion in the presidential poll, Donald Trump now faces impeachment proceedings for asking the Ukrainian President to investigate Joe Biden, his likely rival in the coming presidential race, and linking it to release of US aid and to an invitation to the White House. The House Democrats on Tuesday initiated the proceedings after a whistleblower complained that the president’s conduct violated the campaign finance law which bars foreign contributions to US politicians. Trump has denied that there was anything wrong in his near 30-minute telephonic conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25th. 

But the partial transcript of the conversation released by Trump after the House Intelligence Committee began inquiry into a whistleblower’s complaint does not support his conclusion. For, at the point when Zelensky urges that the $400 billion security aid, duly sanctioned by the Congress, be released, adding helpfully that he would purchase the US anti-tank missiles with it for the fight against Russian-backed rebels in east Ukraine, Trump says he has a favour to seek from him. And then urges the Ukrainian leader, a former comedian who got famous playing president on the small screen till he was actually elected one in real life in the poll earlier this year, to investigate Biden for corruption when the latter’s son was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump praised the former prosecutor who had been removed for dereliction of duty by the Ukrainian government and seeks his reappointment. In the same breath, he offers the help of his own personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the US Attorney General William P Barr, saying the two would call him or anyone he should delegate in order to ensure that Biden’s alleged corruption is investigated. Trump partisans argue that there is no quid pro quo involved in the transcript of the phone conversation made available thus far. But getting a foreign power to dig dirt on your potential opponent in the coming presidential contest is more than a quo for the Trump’s quid of release of the sanctioned aid.

Besides, Trump dangled the offer of an invitation to the White House to Zelensky to further induce the latter to investigate Biden. The newly-elected Ukrainian president is keen for an invite to the White House in order to warn the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian rebels supported by him that he continues to have the support of the US in his fight against them. Despite the US Congress sanctioning the aid, Trump has sought to leverage its release to have Ukraine tar the reputation of Biden. Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian gas company when his father was the US Vice-President under President Barack Obama. He quit that position sometime ago.   

Announcing the decision to launch formal impeachment proceedings on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Trump’s actions had betrayed the president’s oath of office, national security and the integrity of the US elections. There is little doubt that in time Trump would be impeached by the US House after a thorough investigation by the House Judiciary Committee and send recommendation to the effect to the Senate. The Senate will try the impeached president and after due inquiry hold a vote. Two-thirds of the members present and voting for impeachment alone can oust a sitting president, something which has not happened since the founding of the US Republic in 1789. Only two presidents were impeached by the House of Representatives, namely, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but both completed their full elected terms due to the refusal of the Senate to endorse the charges.

In the case of Trump, even if the Democratic-majority House were to recommend his impeachment, it is hardly likely that at least 20 Senators would switch sides to vote out Trump. One of the more unconventional politicians to occupy the White House, Trump has displayed poor understanding of men and matters and has often behaved as the proverbial bull in the china shop, humiliating allies, wooing traditional US enemies, brazenly thrusting his own family into policy positions, riding roughshod over both form and substance of good governance and opening to ridicule the greatest military and economic power in the world. Though, finally, he would not be impeached, his reelection might well have suffered a fatal blow from the start of impeachment proceedings. Narendra Modi’s call to the desi diaspora in Houston, ‘Aab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar’, it seems, is set to remain unfulfilled.

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