Russia Plays Big Role in Impeachment 11/18 07:01
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For all the talk about Ukraine in the House impeachment
inquiry, there's a character standing just off-stage with a dominant role in
this tale of international intrigue: Russia.
As has so often been the case since President Donald Trump took office,
Moscow provides the mood music for the unfolding political drama.
"With you, Mr. President, all roads lead to Putin," House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi declared last week, and not for the first time.
The impeachment investigation is centered on allegations that Trump tried to
pressure Ukraine's new leader over the summer to dig up dirt on Trump political
rival Joe Biden, holding up U.S. military aid to the Eastern European nation as
In her testimony before the House impeachment panel last week, diplomat
Marie Yovanovitch suggested that the president's actions played into the hands
of Vladimir Putin, whose government has backed separatists in a five-year-old
war in eastern Ukraine.
Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran of the State Department known for fighting
corruption in Ukraine and elsewhere, was ousted from her position as ambassador
to Ukraine after Trump and his allies began attacking her and claimed she was
bad-mouthing the president.
Her ouster, she and several Democratic lawmakers argued, ultimately
"How is it that foreign corrupt interests can manipulate our government?"
Yovanovitch asked House investigators. "Which country's interests are served
when the very corrupt behavior we've been criticizing is allowed to prevail?
Such conduct undermines the U.S., exposes our friends and widens the playing
field for autocrats like President Putin."
After two days of public testimony and the release of thousands of pages of
transcripts from witnesses who've met with investigators behind closed doors,
Democratic and Republican lawmakers seem further entrenched in their partisan
corners about whether the president abused his powers.
Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to do him a "a favor"
and investigate Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine. At the
same time, Ukraine was awaiting nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid.
While Democrats say the request to investigate the Bidens represented a quid
pro quo, Trump insists he was within his rights to ask the country to look into
corruption. Democrats, trying to make their accusations more understandable,
have now settled on framing the president's actions as a matter of bribery,
which, as Pelosi noted, is mentioned in the Constitution.
Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time
his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with
Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there
has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his
Trump has dismissed the impeachment proceedings as a "joke" that deny him
and Republican lawmakers due process.
A key ally on Capitol Hill, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., casts the
impeachment inquiry as a continuation of the Democrats' "spectacular implosion
of their Russia hoax."
"In the blink of an eye, we're asked to simply forget about Democrats on
this committee falsely claiming they had more than circumstantial evidence of
collusion between President Trump and Russians," Nunes said.
Democrats, for their part, are trying to brighten the spotlight on their
theory that Trump is doing the bidding of Putin.
Russia, a historic adversary of the United States, has too often emerged as
a benefactor of Trump's actions, says Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat.
In his July call with Zelenskiy, Trump pushed discredited information that
hackers in Ukraine --- rather than Russia --- interfered in the 2016 elections.
Last month, Trump abruptly moved U.S. Special Forces from northern Syria at
Turkey's urging and as result created a security vacuum for Russia to fill.
Trump has also repeatedly disparaged and even suggested withdrawing from
NATO, the military alliance that has served as a deterrent to Soviet and Russia
aggression since it was formed after World War II.
"It's clear that the Trump administration foreign policy is chaotic and
incoherent with one exception: Many of his actions benefit Russia," Lieu said.
Both in open hearings and closed-door testimony, Democrats have sought to
highlight concerns that Trump's foreign policy frequently benefits Russia.
The concerns about Moscow linger even after special counsel Robert Mueller's
nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election
dogged Trump for much of his first term and led to the conviction of five
campaign advisers or close associates of the president.
Mueller, a former FBI director, did not clear Trump of wrongdoing when he
ended the probe nor did he allege the president committed misconduct.
"If Putin doesn't have something on him, he's doing all this for some
bizarre reason," said Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the
House Intelligence Committee.
In her testimony before impeachment investigators last month, Fiona Hill,
until July the Russia analyst on the National Security Council, delivered an
impassioned warning that the United States' faltering resistance to conspiracy
theories and corruption represents a self-inflicted crisis and renders the
country vulnerable to its enemies.
"The Russians, you know, can't basically exploit cleavages if there are not
cleavages," she said. "The Russians can't exploit corruption if there's not
corruption. They can't exploit alternative narratives if those alternative
narratives are not out there and getting credence. What the Russians do is they
exploit things that already exist."
Other witnesses, including Deputy Secretary of State George Kent and
Ambassador William Taylor, the acting chief Ukraine envoy, also testified that
Russia was the chief beneficiary of Trump's decision to hold up military aid to
"Our holding up of security systems that would go to a country that is
fighting aggression from Russia for no good policy reason, no good substantive
reason, no good national security reason is wrong," said Taylor.
U.S. diplomats also worried that the hold on the security assistance would
undercut Zelenskiy, whom they viewed as a reformer in a nation that has
repeatedly endured tumult spurred by endemic corruption.
"I think the signal that there is controversy and question about the U.S.
support of Ukraine sends the signal to Vladimir Putin that he can leverage that
as he seeks to negotiate with not only Ukraine but other countries," Kent said.