“Ukraine” means “borderland”, and that it is. It’s a border – or a gateway – from Russia to Western Europe as well as to Asia. As such, it has major strategic importance for both Russian and US imperialism. That is a major part of the significance of the present impeachment proceedings – that Trump has been in effect siding with Russian imperialism in his dealings with Ukraine. However, to understand the significance of those proceedings, we have to know the facts first. The Senate hearings are starting to clarify the facts. This is happening despite the resistance, despite the fact that the deck has been stacked by senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Supposedly, all the senators are trying to act as an impartial jury. That cover was blown when McConnell said “during this [Senate trial], I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can.” He meant to the extent he can get away with.
Coordinating with Trump’s lawyers, he worked out a scheme whereby the House of Representatives Democrats and Trump’s defense team would each get 24 hours to present their cases, followed by questions submitted in writing from the senators and then deliberation on whether to subpoena new witnesses. McConnell and company defended this procedure by claiming that this was how the impeachment of President Clinton was handled. There were two “little” differences: First, McConnell was proposing that the two sides have two days each to present their cases – in other words, through two twelve-hour sessions each. No way senators no less the public at large would pay attention to such marathons. Second, there was no formal proposal that the information formally acquired in the House hearings would be included.
The Republicans claimed that they were simply following the precedent of how the Clinton impeachment trial was held. However, there is a huge difference: Clinton did not stonewall the original impeachment hearings in the House and, as a result, when it hit the Senate, there were over 90,000 pages of evidence and documents. Republicans also claimed that if the Democrats in the House had wanted those witnesses and those documents they should have gone to court to get them. However, those issues would have taken over a year to resolve – past the upcoming 2020 elections.
The White House lawyers raised several false or misleading objections. They claimed that the Republican Representatives were barred from the House proceedings. That was flat-out untrue. They objected to the first part of the House hearings having been in secret. It was explained that this was done so that one witness could not couch his or her testimony based on what another witness was going to say or not say. The lawyers objected to the fact that Trump (the “White House”) was not allowed to have his lawyers present to advise the witnesses. That would have been like a corporate lawyer “advising” a former corporate executive who was testifying against that corporation if it was accused of breaking the law.
Apparently several Republican senators who are involved in close reelection races – Senator Susan Collins from Maine was prominently mentioned – felt they could not get away with supporting that, so McConnell had to change the two most controversial proposals at the last minute. The two twelve hour marathons were shortened to three eight hour marathons, and the senate would automatically accept all the evidence from the House. They don’t have to seriously consider that evidence; they only have to pretend that they have.
Democratic senate leader Chuck Schumer submitted six different amendments, each of which was voted down strictly along party lines. For example, one amendment called for subpoenaing Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who had famously said that “we do it all the time” as far as demanding that foreign heads of state involve themselves in supporting one US presidential candidate or another. Schumer also called for getting relevant witnesses and documents from the Office of Management of the Budget (OMB) and the Defense Department. These and other amendments were killed.
Parnas & Giuliani
He did not call for calling Lev Parnas or Rudy Giuliani as witnesses. It’s not clear why. For those unfamiliar with Parnas: He’s a Ukrainian born former Trump swindler who’s been indicted for illegal campaign donations. Since his indictment, he’s been singing like a canary. According to some reports, he’s afraid that if he doesn’t publicly reveal everything he knows, his life would be in danger. Among other things, Parnas explained that “his and Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine … ‘… was all about 2020, to make sure [Trump] had another four years.’”
The real meat of the issue started to come clear in the second day of the trial, which was kicked off by Adam Schiff. Schiff is proving himself to be a very skilled lawyer, not only in how he arranges the story he tells, but also in his presentation.
As most people know, there are two main issues that Trump wanted of Ukrainian president Zelensky:
First was an “investigation” of the role of Joe Biden and his son Hunter regarding Hunter’s presence on the board of directors of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. (Hunter was paid $50,000 per month for sitting on that board.) Trump claims that when Joe Biden got the former prosecutor Victor Shokin fired, it was to protect himself and his son. In fact, Shokin was known to be corrupt throughout Europe. Trump’s claim is false.
Second was an “investigation” into the claim that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that intervened in the 2016 US election. Supposedly, they did so through a computer server run by Crowdstrike”. That server had supposedly been sent to Ukraine after that election to keep it out of the hands of the FBI. This theory was first advanced by Putin, who said on March 2, 2017 that “certain [Ukrainian] oligarchs” funded a “female candidate” for the US presidency. As Schiff commented, “That’s a Russian propaganda conspiracy theory and it’s being promulgated by the president [that is, by Trump].”
To backtrack a little: Ukraine was known for its extreme corruption ever since it split off from Russia. That corruption had a lot to do with the pipelines that supply natural gas from Russia to Western Europe (especially Germany) and pass through Ukraine. Sick of that corruption, Ukrainians elected an outsider, Volodymyr Zelensky, to the presidency on April 21 of 2019. This was also during a time that a civil war was being fought in Eastern Ukraine, where a rebel group was fighting for separation. That group was being supplied and supported by Russia. The chief ally of Ukraine was US imperialism. For that reason, and in order to bolster his credibility both at home and abroad, one thing Zelensky wanted was a formal meeting with Trump at the White House.
Already at that time, Trump through his representatives was pressing Zelensky to carry out those phony investigations.
Caste of characters
As Schiff recounted, on July 10, 2019, then national security advisor and war hawk John Bolton met in Washington DC with then US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and a group of representatives for Zelensky. A major purpose for that meeting as far as the Ukrainians were concerned was to arrange a formal Trump-Zelensky White House meeting. Towards the end of that meeting, Sondland said that Zelensky could get that meeting if he started the twin “investigations.” As Schiff commented – based on Sondland’s testimony, “Bolton immediately stiffened and abruptly ended the meeting.”
Shortly later that same day, Sondland met with Alex Vindman, director for Eastern European Affairs for the National Security Council. Sondland reported the same thing – that Zelensky would get a White House meeting “if he went forward with the investigation” – to Vindman.
On July 25, just hours before the infamous Trump-Zelensky telephone call, Trump’s Special Representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, sent a message to Zelensky aid Andriy Yermak, ‘Assuming President Zelensky convinces Trump he will investigate/”get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!’ That is the context of Trump’s “I would like you to do us a favor, though” comment.
Of even greater importance to Zelensky was the $391 million in arms assistance that the US was supposed to give to Ukraine. This was to help them fight the rebels who were acting as a Russian proxy in Eastern Ukraine.
A few weeks after that July 25 phone call, Trump ordered a freeze on the disbursement of that aid. This was after congress had officially reported that the Ukrainian government had made significant progress in cleaning up corruption. Whether that was true or not, it puts the lie to Trump’s claim that he had frozen the aid because he wanted to be sure the corruption was cleaned up. (Since when has Trump been concerned about corruption anyway?)
By early August, Zelensky became aware that Trump had put a hold on that aid. As Schiff reported, on August 29, acting US ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor sent a cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the delay of aid. Then came one of Schiff’s most memorable lines, one he used several times over: “Wouldn’t you [senators] like me to read that cable to you right now? I would like to be able to read it to you right now. Except I don’t have it because the State Department wouldn’t provide it. But if you would like me to be able to read it to you, we can do something about that. We can insist on getting it from the State Department.”
The next day, Michael Duffy of the Office of Management of the Budget (which is in charge of dispensing funds) wired the Defense Department that there was “a clear direction from POTUS [President of the United States] to continue to hold” those funds. That document has also been withheld from the House investigation.
On September 1, Taylor sent a wire to Sondland about the aid freeze and Sondland replied with two words: “Call me”. The next day, Sondland sent a wire to Taylor saying there was no “quid pro quo”. In other words, Sondland didn’t want any written record, but after that exchange he went to Trump’s lawyers and got the message to put in writing that there was no quid pro quo.
On September 5, the NY Times first reported on the aid freeze and two days later, Tim Morrison of the NSC talked with Bolton about the reasons for that aid freeze. Bolton’s response? To tell Morrison to talk to the lawyers. This was the third person that Bolton had told to talk with the lawyers regarding this issue. As Schiff said, when somebody continually tells people to talk to the lawyers, “there’s a problem.”
The notes of Sondland, Morrison and others regarding these discussions are being held by the State Department.
This is just a tiny portion of the overall evidence that the House impeachment representatives presented on the first two days of the trial. Already, it is reportedly shaking some of the Republican senators. The political talking heads are commenting on how this evidence is tending to convince the senators. They are “explaining” that many of them didn’t have time to listen to the proceedings as they occurred. The reality is revealed by Joe Lockhart, former press secretary for President Clinton, who explained that “several of these senators are in very tight races” for reelection. Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, is one of these and she is vulnerable. That’s why she has said that after the testimony and after the questioning, she “is likely” to support calling additional witnesses.
Wall St. Journal
The Wall St. Journal editors are always a good bellweather for the more hard-core wing of the capitalist class and their Republicans. That’s why their editorials are significant. Previously, they in effect denied that Trump had pressured Zelensky to get involved in the US elections. After the first full day of the presentation of the evidence, however, they were reduced to saying, in effect, (1) what he did isn’t “corruption; and (2) so what? other presidents have done it.
Bourgeois democracy vs. Bonapartism
Of course, both of these capitalist parties have a vested interest in Trump’s trying to get the Ukrainian government involved in helping him win reelection. Who among them wouldn’t want to get their snouts dug more deeply into the public trough? But beyond that lie two issues: First is the issue of the very method of rule of the US capitalist class. With this attempt to get help from the Ukrainian government in the upcoming US election goes other methods of frauding the elections, first and foremost of which is voter suppression. As revealed by Greg Palast among others, hundreds of thousands of voters have been removed from the voting rolls. Even more will be removed by November. This complements Trump’s:
- One man takeover of the Republican party
- Removal of any top administration members who show the slightest disagreement with him.
- Stirring up of racial and other divisions, rather than keeping those divisions simply simmering on the back burner.
- Making demagogic attacks on most of the capitalist news media as “fake news”
- Science denialism.
Taken together, these represent a move towards one-man rule, or “bonapartism” vs. the longstanding means of rule of the US capitalist class – bourgeois democracy. This means rule by fear, hysteria and naked repression vs. through persuasion. In sum, in many ways Trump has sacrificed the interests of US capitalism – the “national interest” – for his own personal interests. This is only possible due to the weak base of the mainstream of the US capitalist class among US workers and others – in itself the classic hallmark of bonapartism. While the day may be coming that the US capitalist class will have to abandon capitalist democracy, the mainstream of the US capitalist class does not believe that day has arrived. Through the Democratic Party’s impeachment proceedings, they are trying to reassert themselves.
Trump & Putin
There is also a second fundamental issue. As Oaklandsocialist has reported numerous times, Trump’s past of laundering money for the Russian oligarchs has put him under the thumb of the leader of those oligarchs – Putin. In the case of Ukraine, according to US ambassador William Taylor, Trump’s motivation for delaying the aid was not only wanting to strong-arm Zelensky into the phony investigations; he also opposed the aid in the first place. As Taylor wrote to Sondland on September 8, 2019, “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)” He was more explicit later, saying he meant that the start the phony “investigation” and still don’t get the assistance.
This is the other aspect of the impeachment proceedings – not only Trump’s attempts to get foreign interference in the elections, but his being under the thumb of a major imperialist rival – Russian imperialism – as a result of his money laundering past. But it is exactly here that the major weakness of the Democrats’ case is revealed. They continue, even in this hour of crisis for them, to avoid the issue of Trump’s money laundering. To this day, despite several threats to call him, the Democrats have refused to call Felix Sater to testify. Sater is the main connection between Trump and the Russian oligarchs. The reason is the prevalence of money laundering for the drug cartels throughout the real estate industry, meaning that finance capital in general is involved. And the majority of the political donations from finance capital goes to the Democrats!
Nor is it only the center and right wing of the Democrats that is silent on the issue; so is the “left” wing, including Sanders, Warren and “the squad”. It’s also interesting that since the impeachment trial has hit the Senate, they all have been silent on the proceedings. So has been the labor leadership and their political representatives – Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as well as much of the “revolutionary” socialist left.
What’s needed is public street-corner meetings to discuss this capitalist crisis, make the link with the crisis of US and world capitalism in general, and start to popularize the need for a mass working class party.