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:
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:
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
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.
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