Donald Trump wasn’t withholding military aid from Ukraine because he wanted to force Ukraine to get on the stick and call Joe Biden a crook. No. Trump was merely and rightly concerned about corruption in Ukraine in general. Because corruption is so offensive to Trump’s moral sensibilities.
That’s a central contention in the House Intelligence Committee minority report prepared by the committee’s Republicans. The fact that Joe Biden might be the Democratic nominee had nothing to do with Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine. It was all about Ukrainian corruption writ large. Biden’s role in the proceedings is merely coincidental.
And if you believe that, I’ve got a drained swamp to sell you.
Ukraine is recognized as one of the more corrupt nations in the world, and certainly one of if not the most corrupt in Europe. Though efforts have been underway to curb corruption in the country in recent years, markets for natural gas — the Ukrainian industry that triggered Trump’s sensitive corruption detector — are still manipulated to enrich oligarchs at the public’s expense.
Ukraine’s corruption, as it happens, isn’t confined to the natural gas industry. Politicians, both local and national, are known to be paid puppets of oligarchs. According to research conducted in large part by Ukrainians themselves, the government bureaucracy is lousy with bribes and kickbacks, and tax credits are awarded to phony companies, then transferred to real entities, in a scourge of systemic corruption. The same billionaire who owns Ukraine’s biggest TV network also owns Ukraine’s biggest bank, and both are used to foster political and economic corruption.
But when Trump said “I would like you to do us a favor though,” the favor he requested wasn’t about rooting out any of that endemic corruption. Instead, what Trump asked of Ukraine was laser-beam specific, especially for a man renowned for ignorance of policy detail. First, as Trump put it on his “perfect” call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
Having addressed the pressing national security threat posed by the imaginary server, Trump turned attention to his deep concerns about corruption in Ukraine’s civil service and banking and … oh, wait, no he didn’t. Of all the multiple strains of corruption that might hinder the Ukrainian economy and Ukraine’s effectiveness as an ally of U.S. and European interests, the most urgent, to Trump, was:
“The other thing. There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Termed charitably, Trump’s crusade against corruption is selective.
Termed accurately, Trump’s crusade against corruption is, to borrow a favored word from his diminishing vocabulary, a hoax.
As is always the case when the matter at hand is the relationship between Trump and some category or other of nefarious acts — corruption, in this instance — neither time nor space allows a full inventory.
But here’s a short list:
- Trump had to pay $25 million to settle with marks, viewers of The Apprentice, presumably, who fell for his “Trump University” scam.
- Trump’s hotel in Washington D.C, in a building leased from the U.S. government, has been a conduit for lobbyists, corporations both domestic and global, Republican courtiers, and foreign governments to enrich and curry favor with the president of the United States while he is in office. “The Founding Fathers put the Emoluments Clauses in the Constitution to prevent presidents from accepting bribes,” Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, whose subcommittee has investigated the hotel lease, said recently after Trump put the hotel on the market. “Selling this hotel will not change the fact that President Trump has ignored the Constitution for nearly three years and he continues to encourage corruption in his own backyard,” Titus said.
- Trump’s otherwise uninteresting adult sons pursue Trump company deals in the U.S. and abroad, leveraging daddy’s position for daddy’s profit, made possible by Trump’s refusal, unprecedented among modern presidents, to put his business in a blind trust. Ivanka and Jared Kushner, who are actually employed in the White House (only the best people), have also made millions internationally while they are working in the White House, which Republicans presumably think is just as the Founders intended. “Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience,” the Washington Post reported last year.
- No grift is too small to take advantage of in the Trump era culture of corruption. Only after Trump was president did the military start spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for rooms at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland. And the tab for the logistically absurd shuttling of Mike Pence back and forth from meetings in Dublin to a Trump resort in Ireland was $600,000.
- Hoping to pump up Florida’s summer room occupancy doldrums, Trump wanted to host the 2020 G-7 summit of world leaders at his Trump National Doral Miami.
- Last month a New York judge ordered Trump to pay $2 million to nonprofits he had scammed by diverting charitable funds to his business, campaign and personal interests.
- Trump’s perpetual profiteering at Mar-A-Lago — a revenue stream that includes millions of dollars billed to U.S. taxpayers — is more grotesque than the resort itself.
- Democrats were too chickenshit to impeach him for it (at the time). But as the Mueller report made clear, Trump obstructed Mueller’s investigation. “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” reads a statement signed my more than a thousand former federal prosecutors (including two from Nevada).
Whether for simple, gross self-enrichment, or for political advantage, Trump’s position on corruption is uncharacteristically consistent: He’s for it. It should be committed, wantonly and frequently, so long as it helps him. It is perhaps the one area of character and conduct in which Trump has earned our unconditional trust: You never have to wonder who he’s out for, or whether he’s willing and eager to lie, cheat or steal to get what he wants. He’ll do it every time.
Gosh, Ukraine sure is corrupt, hand-wringing Republicans say, in an effort to rationalize the anti-patriotic behavior of a man that many if not most of them secretly despise. At one point in their Intelligence Committee minority report, Republicans even contend that given his deep concern about corruption, Trump holding up aid to Ukraine was “entirely prudent.”
Venality, dishonesty, incompetence, malfeasance, duplicity, betrayal, treachery, treason, and of course, corruption — there are many words one might use in association with Trump withholding Congressionally approved aid to an an ally at war, risking U.S. and European interests in the process, for Trump’s own personal political gain. Prudent isn’t one of them.
Republicans are right, though. Trump does have a huge interest in corruption. He always has. Specifically, how to benefit from it.