Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

The two witnesses at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing were George Kent, who has been the Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs since September 2018, and William Taylor, the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine.

During his opening statement, Representative Devin Nunes identified the three questions he thinks need to be answered.

  1. What is the extent of the Democrats’ prior coordination with the whistleblower?
  2. What is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?
  3. Why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden and did his position affect any government actions?

As I predicted, one of the lines of defense from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee comes directly from Moscow. That explains Nunes’ second question, which involves the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine—not Russia—that attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. The purveyors of that line of thinking want us to believe that Donald Trump was justified in pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate those claims.

Republicans also claimed that Trump’s pressure to investigate the Bidens was justified because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. During his opening statement, Kent had some interesting things to say about that.

In 2019, Ukraine’s citizens passed the political torch to a new generation, one that came of age not in the final years of the Soviet Union, but in an independent Ukraine. Presidential and parliamentary elections this year swept out much of Ukraine’s previous governing elite and seated a 41-year-old President Zelenskyy, a cabinet with an average age of 39, and a parliament with an average age of 41.

At the heart of that change mandate five years after Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity is a thirst for justice, because there cannot be dignity without justice. Without a reformed judicial sector that delivers justice with integrity for all, Ukrainian society will be unsettled. Foreign investors will not bring the investment needed to ensure Ukraine’s long-term prosperity.

This is why the principled promotion of the rule of law and institutional integrity has been so necessary to our strategy for a successful Ukraine. It is also true for other former captive nations still recovering from the ashes of Soviet misrule. It is why acting inconsistently with the core principle of rule-of-law comes with great peril…

U.S. efforts to counter corruption in Ukraine focus on building institutional capacity so that the Ukrainian government has the ability to go after corruption and effectively investigate, prosecute, and judge alleged criminal activities using appropriate institutional mechanisms — that is — to create and follow the rule of law…As a general principle, I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.

Representative Jim Himes took up that issue and initially asked Kent to elaborate on what a systemic anti-corruption effort would entail. He responded by talking about efforts to reform all aspects of the justice system, from law enforcement to the courts. That led to one of the most significant exchanges that occurred on this first day of hearings.

Himes summarized by saying, “President Trump wasn’t trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice-President Biden and at the 2020 election.” That isn’t just a great line, it captures the tie that binds Trump’s efforts to Putin’s.

The corruption in Ukraine is tied to the oligarchs who gained power and influence while Putin’s ally, Viktor Yanukovych, was president. As Kent said at one point, “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.” Those pissed off people (including Paul Manafort) were the ones feeding dirt to Giuliani. They’re more than happy to say or do anything in service of Trump’s conspiracy theories, especially if it weakens the new government in Ukraine and their anti-corruption efforts. That is where Trump and Putin’s interests meet.

As is so often the case, what Trump and his Republican enablers are doing isn’t simply lying. They’re turning the truth on its head. It’s not just that the president doesn’t give a shit about corruption in Ukraine. He’s willing to exploit corruption in Ukraine for his own personal gain. It is difficult to imagine a stronger case for impeachment—and this one doesn’t require proof of a quid pro quo.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.