While the Mueller investigation dragged on for the first two years of President Trump’s time in office, it turned up nothing damning enough to warrant impeachment. But a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky just two months ago and a whistleblower complaint regarding it have even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — who had previously held out on supporting a formal impeachment inquiry — changing her mind.
“He gave us no choice,” she said on NBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Amid the chaos of the inquiry, Bloomberg obtained a video of Trump denouncing the whistleblower who exposed the possible crime as “close to a spy” during a closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats.
“Who’s the person that gave the whistleblower the information?” he said. “‘Cause that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart to spies and treasoners [sic] right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
Trump was referencing the history of spies and traitors being executed for being disloyal to their country. Ironically, Trump’s impeachment inquiry is based on the question of whether he violated U.S. law by conspiring with another country.
The rough, unofficial transcript of the July 25 call reveals Trump asking Zelensky to dig up dirt on Democratic Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, presumably to sabotage his campaign. The dirt involves allegations that Biden improperly intervened in Ukraine to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian private gas company that was under scrutiny for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment — before Hunter Biden had even joined.
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,” the memorandum of the telephone conversation cites Trump saying. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you ·can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump asking this “favor” of Zelensky calls into question his adherence to the integrity of U.S. elections. It is illegal for foreigners to contribute to U.S. political campaigns or for American politicians to solicit support from foreigners. An investigation into Biden by Ukraine could constitute a non-monetary contribution.
In the same “Morning Joe” interview, Pelosi said Trump’s conversation with Zelensky made him disloyal to the Oath of Office.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said his panel would begin an investigation of Trump’s actions involving Ukraine.
In reality, Trump calling a whistleblower a “spy” or traitor is inaccurate. Whistleblowers expose illegal or unethical information within an organization, while spies give classified information to foreign governments. Treason, in the words of the Constitution itself, “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in Open Court.”
The Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees and applicants who legally reveal information about corruption. The act prevents the whistleblowers from facing retaliation. In the case of this complaint, the whistleblower is presumed to be a CIA analyst. The language of the complaint seems to be written by someone who is familiar with legal jargon and protocol.
The whistleblower themself explains how they were not a direct witness but became aware of it through others.
“It is routine for U.S. officials with responsibility for a particular regional or functional portfolio to share such information with one another in order to inform policymaking and analysis,” the complaint says.
Based on the information currently known, the whistleblower did not do anything illegal. Trump may have.
In the words of The Bulwark’s Benjamin Parker in his piece, “Memo to Trump: The Whistleblower Is Not a Spy”:
“If it’s classified information, and you give it to authorities authorized to view classified information (such as the intelligence community inspector general), and those authorities give it to the congressional committees who are authorized to view classified information, and this all happens according to the letter-slash-spirit of the law governing whistleblowers in the intelligence community, and then later the president decides to declassify the information because he doesn’t understand exactly how politically damaging it is, that’s not spying.”