The congressional investigation into possible presidential crimes related to the withholding of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in exchange for political favors is a legitimate process with historic implications to the nation.
Here are three reasons why the Ukraine issue deserves the full attention of Americans.
First, the ongoing situation in Ukraine has serious national security consequences as the U.S confronts the Putin regime’s offensive against Western democracies.
Russian military aggression in Ukraine is but one element of Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCourt finds Russia was behind 2006 poisoning of ex-spy in London Google employees criticize removal of Navalny app Third Russian charged in 2018 nerve agent attack on ex-spy in England MORE’s current offensive. The Mueller Report exposed Putin’s use of corruption and a massive social media campaign to undermine democracy in the United States and European nations. That effort reached a peak in the 2016 U.S. election, but it continues and will increase in the national election in 2020.
Another element of Putin’s offensive is to fill the leadership vacuum in the Middle East created by the American military withdrawal from Kurdish-controlled border regions of Syria.
The Russian military invasion against Ukraine is also a component of Putin’s aggressive strategy. Ukraine historically has sought independence from Moscow, although Russia traditionally has considered Ukraine to be an integral part of Russia. Ukraine, like others in the Soviet empire, declared independence when the Soviet system collapsed and is now an internationally recognized nation within its borders.
In 2014, Russia seized the Crimea region of Ukraine and began a military conflict in eastern Ukraine where Russia continues to confront Ukrainian forces today.
Western democracies in the U.S., Canada and Europe cannot allow Russia to invade a sovereign nation in Europe without serious penalties.
Economic sanctions are not enough. Giving Ukraine the means to adequately defend itself against Russian aggression is essential to confronting Putin’s offensive.
The Obama administration failed to provide lethal military assistance during its term. That was a mistake, but President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE reportedly withheld $400 million in appropriated military assistance to Ukraine — including lethal aid — as leverage to get political dirt on his most likely and formidable American political opponent.
Political manipulation for domestic advantage or any reduction of serious U.S. and European consequences for Russian military aggression in Ukraine only encourages Putin’s aggressive instincts — and raises doubts in Eastern Europe and elsewhere about the American commitment to defend democracies around the world.
Further, if Trump withheld desperately needed U.S. military aid to Ukraine to promote his 2020 political campaign, the president of the United States has placed his personal political aspirations above the national security interests of the United States.
Second, allegations related to Ukraine represent the potential precedent for foreign interests to determine the legitimacy of U.S. elections, and therefore, the future of American democracy.
Official transcripts, a whistleblower report, and congressional testimony by career professionals in government implicate President Trump, his personal attorney, a U.S. ambassador, a special envoy and others in an alleged bribery scheme to withhold appropriated taxpayer funds and equipment to pressure Ukraine’s government to provide Trump a personal political advantage in the 2020 presidential election.
Federal law and regulations prohibit the following:
- Soliciting campaign assistance from a foreign national — this includes money donations and any “other thing of value;”
- Acceptance of any contributions, donations as well as an exchange of any “thing of value” from foreign nationals, in any federal, state or local election;
- Misappropriation of government funds or property for personal benefit purpose;
- Use of intimidation, threats, or corrupt means to induce another person to withhold or destroy information or to evade a legal process;
- Obstruction of justice: Using corrupt interference with the “due and proper administration of Law.”
Every career professional involved in foreign and national security policy knows that the use of official position for political gain is corruption and that it is improper and illegal to solicit or accept foreign assistance for domestic political purposes.
That is why an increasing number of career professionals reported what they saw as potentially illegal and corrupt activity by the president and others accused of withholding essential military assistance to Ukraine to get political help in the upcoming U.S. election.
The corruption of elections by U.S. officials or foreign interests is a lethal threat to constitutional democracy in this nation. If Donald Trump or future presidents and officials avoid accountability for the use of government influence and taxpayer funds to obtain help from foreign sources in U.S. elections, those elections will be compromised. Such actions will set a precedent for hostile foreign nations and special interests to corrupt American democracy in the future, and the American public will lose confidence in the American system of government.
Third, ethical actions by career professionals in the civil service and the military who respect their oath to the constitution and the rule of law over personal political loyalty are critical to the defense of this country against government crime and corruption. So far, several career professionals have shown the courage to speak up inside government and publicly or to engage in legal whistleblower reporting when they saw potential wrongdoing in the president’s policy on Ukraine.
The disgraceful campaign by the president and his loyalists on Fox television and in Congress to smear the loyalty and integrity of professional men and women in government and the military who have served this nation with honor and distinction for decades and who speak truth as they see it is outrageous. Their behavior brings to mind the statement that Army Legal Counsel Joseph Welsh made to Senator Joseph McCarthy during his Senate hearings: “…have you no sense of decency?”
Without regard to what party is in power, Americans who want clean government and rule of law in the United States should value the courage of career professionals who officially raise concerns about corruption in government.
The issues involving the threat to U.S. national security and the future of American democracy represented by Trump’s alleged actions in Ukraine are too critical to be ignored. Today, Americans are best served by a legal and ultimately public congressional investigation into the allegations.
Once the testimony of the professionals and those associated with the issue is complete, Americans and their representatives in congress can decide if the evidence constitutes crimes and misdemeanors sufficient to justify the constitutional impeachment of Donald J. Trump.
James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."