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More Egregious Than Watergate: A Guide To The Recent Impeachment Scandal

After attending a panel discussion, Staff Writers Solomia Dzhaman and Victoria Borlando created a guide to the developments of the recent impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

On Monday, October 7th, a panel of experts came together to discuss the recent presidential impeachment scandal. The panel was hosted by the Harriman Institute of Russian, Eurasian and East European studies, and moderated by the Director of the Harriman Institute, Alexander Cooley. The panel was comprised of three experts across fields: 

  • Tim Frye, a member of Columbia’s Department of Political Science, and a scholar specializing in corruption and autocracy in Russia and other post-Soviet states;
  • Dora Chomaik, a native New Yorker, Columbia graduate, and board member of Razom, a Ukrainian nonprofit aimed at fighting corruption and bettering life in Ukraine. Throughout the discussion she acted as the liaison between Ukraine and the United States, providing historical and cultural background that Americans may not be aware of;
  • Lincoln Mitchell, another member of Columbia’s Department of Political Science, with research focusing on Eastern-European politics and governance. 

A full livestream of the discussion can be found on The Harriman Institute’s Facebook

From the beginning of the panel discussion, the purpose of the impromptu gathering was clear: Columbia University wanted to get three different, expert perspectives on the situation of the US, Ukraine, and the integrity of rule of law and democracy in light of the recent scandal involving President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Yet throughout the discussion, one, harrowing message was clear: not enough people are talking about the dangerous precedents Pres. Donald Trump is currently setting. So, in this time of confusion and political chaos, Bwog Staff Writers Solomia Dzhaman and Victoria Borlando decided to provide Bwog readers a guide to this scandal, hopefully bringing awareness to this critical moment in American and global history, dubbed “More egregious than Watergate” by panelist Mitchell.

How did the scandal begin, how did it evolve?

Here is a short timeline of the sequence of events:

  • July 25, 2019: Pres. Donald Trump and Pres. Zelensky talk on the phone
  • September 8, 2019: Three House Committees launch investigation on Trump’s administration pressuring Ukraine for election manipulation
  • September 24, 2019: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces a formal impeachment inquiry into Pres. Donald Trump
  • September 25, 2019: The White House releases a transcript of the phone call
  • September 26, 2019: The transcript of the phone call is released to the public
  • October 8, 2019: White House states it will not cooperate with the investigation ; EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland blocked from testifying by State Department
  • October 11, 2019: Sondland states he will defy State Department and honor his subpoena

What is the impeachment process in theory?

Impeachment is a complex multistep process. Currently, six different House committees are investigating President Trump and will send their findings to the Judiciary Committee. If that committee finds the evidence to be sufficient, they will be presented to the Democrat-controlled House for a vote. If a majority votes in favor, Pres. Trump will be impeached, but not removed from office. To be removed, the Republican-controlled Senate would put Pres. Trump on trial. According to the outcome of the trial, two thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict, and only in that scenario would Pres. Trump be removed from office. 

What is actually happening with the impeachment process right now?

On September 24th, Speaker Pelosi opened an impeachment inquiry. After the inquiry, The White House released a partial transcript of the conversation, but after another whistleblower came forward, the White House issued a formal letter stating they would refuse to cooperate in the investigation. The House is continuing to issue subpoenas, collect evidence, and set court dates. Although the State Department blocked EU ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying, as of October 11th, Sondland said he would defy the State Department and honor his subpoena. The situation continues to evolve, so make sure to keep refreshing your news outlet of choice. 

If Pres. Trump is not impeached, what are the implications?

The likelihood of impeachment or removal is nearly impossible to predict, especially in a situation changing so rapidly, but the panel focused on the implications of Pres. Trump remaining in office. During the extensive Q & A session, the implications of rule of law were brought up.  As far as current evidence shows, Pres. Trump used executive power to help achieve personal success. If this is true, it would be an example of blatant and severe corruption that the US has positioned itself against since its founding. Panelist Mitchell made the point that the US claims to “export rule of law” – meaning it has helped (or claimed to help) numerous countries in establishing free and fair democracies. If the US, which poses itself as an enforcer of the rule of law, can’t apply anti-corruption laws within its own borders, the standards for anti-corruption might slowly disappear. Panelist Mitchell claimed that democracies rely on each other to keep themselves in check – if the president of a major nation such as the US can get away with this level of corruption, it sets a precedent for both US executives and leaders around the world.

What effect will this impeachment trial have on the Democratic and Republican Parties?

A recent Washington Post poll reveals the possible implications of following through on this impeachment proceeding. According to the article, “The findings highlight the partisan divisions that surround the Trump presidency and any impeachment inquiry, but also the degree to which there are defections among Republicans.” Among democrats and independents, there seems to be general support for a trial, with 80% and 57% endorsement respectively. Furthermore, with both the developing Ukraine scandal and Pres. Trump’s refusal to comply with impeachment proceedings, Democrats would have ground for impeachment, either by gathering more information on the Ukraine debacle or obstruction of justice. As Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in an official statement, “The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable.” Thus, the impeachment proceedings will favor the Democratic agenda, demonstrating party strength, efficiency, and unity during this time of political turmoil.

However, complications arise in regard to the future of the Republican Party, which, according to the Washington Post poll and comments by the panelists at the event, is beginning to fracture around presidential support. Dr. Mitchell comments a key fact about the relationship between the impeachment trial and the Republican Party: “Continuing to support Donald Trump will hurt the Republican Party, but convicting Donald Trump will destroy the party.” A noticeable divide can be seen in both the party as a whole, and in key positions of government. “Among Republicans,” writes The Washington Post,  “about 7 in 10 do not support the inquiry but almost 3 in 10 do, and almost one-fifth of Republicans say they favor a vote recommending the president’s removal.” Moreover, the panelists commented about the fickleness of Republican loyalty to Pres. Trump, as most of the “hearty, pro-Trump senators” only support him on the condition that support does not decrease their approval rating. As the panelists observed, many of the Republicans in Congress are beginning to distance themselves from Pres. Trump and his behavior. As Frye stated, “We all tend to focus on the charisma of Donald Trump, the tweets…but the policies of Trump are what’s important…Normalizing his behavior is common in autocratic and non-democratic regimes.” Therefore, the Republican Party is in a difficult situation during this time. They must either demonstrate unity and risk public approval by supporting Pres. Trump’s actions and behavior, or they must risk party unity to maintain public approval to potentially remain in office for another term.

How does Ukraine tie in? 

An often-misunderstood aspect of this conflict is the man who set it all off, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Panelist Chomaik served as the liaison between Ukraine and the US, and helped define the situation in Ukraine. Chomaik described how the political landscape of the country is shaped by three important important factors

  1. The Soviet Union. Although now 28 years in the past, Chomaik stated that the influence of the Soviet Union on today’s Ukraine is hard to overstate. The effects are hard to quantify, and range from a set of attitudes, to leftover laws, to physical buildings and infrastructure. The Soviet Union is still a part of the essential infrastructure of Ukraine, and Ukraine is still fighting to become a truly independent and separate nation. 
  2. Maidan (also known as Euromaidan or The Revolution of Dignity) is the 2014 peaceful-turned-violent revolution in Ukraine. After former president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an EU agreement, student protesters congregated on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (literally “Freedom Square”), and were violently dispersed by police. This prompted Ukrainians across the country to come out and voice their frustrations with corrupt government and police in a massive protest that lasted through the winter of 2013-2014. The protest slowly turned more hostile, ending in the deaths of over 100 protestors and the ousting of Pres. Yanukovych. Chomaik claimed that because the recent revolution (and the earlier 2004 Orange Revolution) is fresh in Ukrainians’ minds and so the problem of corruption has been brought to the forefront of national consciousness and discourse.
  3. Finally, Chomaik claimed that the Russian invasion into the Donbass region of Ukraine colors Ukrainian action and interaction on a daily level. Chomaik drew on the analogy of the Vietnam War era in the United States: war casualties in Ukraine with respect to the country’s population are nearing the proportion of US soldiers lost during Vietnam. This anxiety permeates Ukrainian consciousness and governs the universal Ukrainian political agenda: stop the war. 

Given these three aspects, who is President Zelensky, and where did he come from? Chomaik described him as a product of the new oliarchich Ukrainian regime – unlike past presidents, Pres. Zelensky is the first to come to political consciousness in post Soviet-era Ukraine. In addition, Pres. Zelensky inherited an objectively terrible political landscape – the annexation of Crimea, invasion of Donbass, and tanking value of the Ukrainian hryvnia coloring his election. With pressure from the public to end the war as quickly as possible, operating an openly corrupt system, it is no surprise that Pres. Zelensky would do everything in his power to get aid from the US, even if the morality of the situation may not be clear. Panelist Mitchell pointed out the language Pres. Zelensky used when on the phone with Pres. Trump was the language of oligarchy and flattering a person in power. For example in this direct quote from the transcript,

“I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. […] I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have, friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership.”

Mitchell brought attention to the use of the word “friends” by Pres. Zelensky, and claimed Pres. Zelensky mimics the language Pres. Trump uses as a form of flattery. According to Mitchell, the transcript proves Pres. Zelensky knows how to talk to autocrats.

Chomaik brought up the idea that if the US hopes to fight corruption, one of the best and most organized resources are currently in Ukraine, where fighting corruption has become a national goal. Chomaik claimed that if nations hope to fight corruption, they must first and foremost work together to keep each other in check, and secondly recognize how the landscape of corruption has changed.

What now?

The thesis, recurring message, and most emphasized point of the panel was this isn’t normal. All three panelists emphasized that a scandal this big, extending past national borders, during a time of such political instability is unheard of, and so we need to keep talking about it

New evidence and developments are coming to light almost hourly, so no real predictions can be made about how this will end, where it will go, and in whose favor the tides will turn. Make sure to tune into your news outlet of choice to stay up to date.

Image via Bwog Staff

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous >Guys, Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels, obstruction, emoluments, tax returns, the 26 sexual assault accusers, and kavanaugh smears all failed. However, I REALLY think we got Drumpf with this Ukraine thing. I truly believe it this time because CNN told me it’s true.

    How big of a moron do you have to be to believe anything the democrats say these days?

  • FYI says:

    @FYI The “whistleblower’s” name is Eric Ciaramella. He is a CIA officer and Obama holdover who worked for Pence and is a registered Democrat. He didn’t hear the call first hand and wasn’t even assigned to the White House when the call was made. Right now, he’s too big of a coward to come forward. Which makes sense given the guy is a total beta.

    1. CUCR says:

      @CUCR He worked for Biden*. Proofreading is good.

    2. yooooo says:

      @yooooo how did you know?

    3. Freaky says:

      @Freaky Wait, how did you know that Eric Ciaramella was the whistleblower? Can you point to any sources from 3 weeks ago?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous You can read the transcript for yourselves, which the media and the democrats never thought the president was going to release. Nowhere in the transcript is there mention of aid or quid pro quo. And nowhere is Biden’s status as a political opponent mentioned. This is another Russian collusion hoax where the only real crimes were committed by democrats and RINOs in the GOP. Does anyone really think Hunter Biden — a man who was dishonorably discharged from the Navy, is addicted to crack, and banged his dead brother’s widow before getting her addicted to crack — would have been on Burisma’s board if his last name were Smith? And if not, then why is that not something worth investigating?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous nuclear take about Hunter Biden

    2. anon says:

      @anon Twenty one minutes of the transcript are missing. Nice try though.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous I love shareblue talking points! There is nothing missing from the transcript. What you are repeating is a conspiracy theory that has been thoroughly debunked by the record. Looks like you all are in full gaslight and damage control mode.

      2. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous The “missing time” was taken up by translators you dimwit. Zelensy talks, translator talks to Trump, Trump responds, translator talks to Zelensky, etc… The President of Ukraine is not fluent in English and not proficient enough to speak at the level displayed in the transcript.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Pelosi does not have the constitutional authority to open an impeachment inquiry. She is not a dictator. The entire matter must be voted on by the entire House, otherwise they do not have the required “legislative purpose” “authorized by the entire chamber” to overcome claims of executive privilege (See Wilkinson v. United States). Imagine being an “expert” and not knowing this.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Actually, all the constitution says about an impeachment inquiry is “The House of Representatives shall choose their
      Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole power of Impeachment” (direct quote from Article I Section II).
      There are no other constitutional laws surrounding how the House arrives at impeachment, only that they have to get a majority vote.
      Additionally, Wilkinson v. United States was a case about 1st amendment free speech rights, I don’t see the relevance to presidential impeachment.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous WRONG. Nice cherry pick and mental gymnastics though. If you bothered to read Wilkinson, you would have seen that one of the core issues concerned the House’s subpoena and whether that power was absolute. Wilkinson defined limits of that power:

        A Congressional committee must meet three requirements for its subpoenas to be “legally sufficient.” First, the committee’s investigation of the broad subject area must be authorized by its chamber; second, the investigation must pursue “a valid legislative purpose” (See Watkins for a more thorough discussion on “legislative purpose”) but does not need to involve legislation and does not need to specify the ultimate intent of Congress; and third, the specific inquiries must be pertinent to the subject matter area that has been authorized for investigation.

        The first part is clear. An investigation must be authorized by the chamber, which implies that it must be authorized by the House via a vote by the entire body politic. If your interpretation regarding the speaker were correct, then Congress wouldn’t need to vote on anything. The speaker would just pass legislation herself.

        None of this precludes the Democrat-led committees from investigating. It just means that their subpoenas will not be able to withstand claims of executive privilege. If the entire House votes to open an impeachment inquiry, then almost all claims of executive privilege go out the window except those directly pertaining to direct presidential communications, which are inherently protected by strict separation of powers.

    2. anon says:

      @anon Not true.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous fam u can’t say the Constitution’s words aren’t true when they’re…right there….in the Constitution….

  • anon says:

    @anon Let’s go over the evidence:

    1. We have a sworn statement under penalty of perjury from a former Ukrainian prosecutor general who says he was terminated because Biden called for it due to his investigation of Burisma.

    2. A Ukrainian court found that the U.S. (specifically the Obama Administration) improperly meddles in Ukrainian politics through Burisma.

    3. Burisma was still under investigation the day the prosecutor general in (1) was fired. There is a direct record of that investigation. There is also a record of Burisma executives visiting the replacement prosecutor the very next day to get him to drop the investigation.

    4. There is a photograph of Joe Biden and his son hunter playing golf with members of the burisma board in 2014.

    5. The transcript of Trump’s call was released. There are only two sentences dedicated to Biden in the 5 page transcript. Nowhere is there discussion of quid pro quo or of withholding aid.

    6. Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, insists there was no quid pro quo. In fact, he knew nothing about Trump withholding any aid.

    7. Texts between ambassador Volker and his Ukrainian counterpart indicate there was no quid pro quo.

    8. Ukraine had already opened up a new investigation into Burisma and the former prosecutor general’s firing months prior to the call in May.

    9. The CIA whistleblower was not even on the call or working at the White House when the call happened.

    10. The whistleblower is a registered Democrat who had previously worked for Biden. In the 18 days between the “urgent” call and his complaint, the whistleblower repeatedly had contact with Adam Schiff.

    11. The complaint mischaracterizes numerous portions of the call as seen in the transcript referenced in (5).

    12. Furthermore, the rules and form for submitting whistleblower complaints was modified to allow second hand accounts (hearsay) in early August, just days before the final complaint was submitted.

    13. The firm representing the whistleblower, Compass Rose Legal, is run by a former Hillary and Schumer staffer with deep ties to the DNC who donated to the Biden campaign.

    14. In a 1998 treaty the U.S. signed with Ukraine, both countries are to cooperate in all official executive investigations.

    15. 3 Democrat senators – Menendez, Durbin, and Lahey – knew this when they sent a letter to the Ukraine in May threatening to withhold aid if the Ukrainians didn’t cooperate with Mueller.

    16. New evidence is coming out almost hourly that shows the ways in which Ukraine meddles in the 2016 election to help Democrats and Hillary via crowdstrike and the Steel dossier.

    Despite all the evidence of Joe’s misconduct and evidence of Democrat misconduct, there is no admissible evidence of Trump’s. And remember that hearsay is inadmissible per rule 802 of the federal rules of evidence. Nevertheless, there are mountains of evidence that exonerate the President.

  • anon says:

    @anon How anyone can defend Trump and the Trump spawn just boggles my mind. Do they live in altered reality where ethics and laws don’t exist.

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