House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she has discovered President Donald Trump’s impeachable offense. It’s bribery. When he was trying to get Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden for corruption and meanwhile briefly held up $400 million in military aid, he was bribing Ukraine, she tells us. I guess she has never read our treaty with Ukraine.
It says corruption is a legitimate reason to withhold aid, and, if you think about it for a minute, it is easy to see why that clause exists. A corrupt country may well misuse the aid, maybe hurting its own citizens, maybe tricking the donor, maybe furthering the cause of corruption. Ukraine happens to have a deep, dark, devastating history of corruption that has yet to make a wholly convincing exit, and Mr. Trump had reason to be concerned about Biden.
His son Hunter Biden once signed on at a salary of $50,000 a month to sit on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company once in so much legal trouble that its owner took a long hike around Europe to stay out of jail. The young Biden did not speak Ukrainian and had no background in energy matters, but appears to have been qualified by virtue of his last name.
Maybe, just maybe, his family ties could help keep the company out of trouble, you can imagine the owner thinking, and then evidence seemed to arise. Vice President Joe Biden showed up and told Ukrainian officials they weren’t going to get $1 billion in U.S. aid if they did not fire a prosecutor pledged to investigate Burisma. Ukraine did fire him, and everyone was innocent of wrongdoing we have been assured. For instance, Biden defenders say, the prosecutor himself was corrupt and would likely have left Burisma alone, and many others in the Obama administration were absolutely behind this firing, as were our European allies.
I would still like you to consider the following. A State Department witness at the first open impeachment hearing said he had early on expressed an obvious worry to the vice president’s national security staffers: Hunter Biden’s Burisma connection had the appearance of a conflict of interest. Joe Biden himself said he didn’t even talk to his son about what he was doing, negligence of a kind that is nothing short of startling. A firm representing Burisma did use Hunter Biden’s name in seeking a session at the State Department. And after the prosecutor’s removal, the Burisma owner was removed from a wanted list and saw all kinds of court cases dropped on such matters as tax evasion and embezzlement.
An investigation into all of this really might turn up corruption, even though it is true that Mr. Trump’s temporary withholding of aid was not backed by many in his administration. After all, they were proud that the military package actually contained lethal weaponry, unlike Obama’s weak-kneed example. Democrats have said Mr. Trump was just trying to wound a political opponent. Well, being a political opponent of someone does not mean you’re excused from suspicions, and letting a vice president get away with malfeasance would not be OK.
Look, I am not making some kind of final judgment on Biden. I agree that Mr. Trump is fault-laden. But I do think the real corruption here, the political corruption, is best expressed by Alexander Hamilton in an essay on impeachment in The Federalist Papers. He says the greatest danger in impeachment proceedings is arriving at a decision not through “real demonstrations of innocence or guilt,” but through the strength of a party. In the House, the Democratic strength has kept Republicans from interviewing Hunter Biden, probing fronts that would give Mr. Trump a chance and maybe showing the republic-threatening chicanery that now seems obvious to some of us.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.