Trump’s Ukraine Controversy is Exaggerated


Though President Trump’s call to the Ukrainian President may have been unethical, it does not qualify as “quid-pro-quo.” (Courtesy of Flickr)

Nancy Pelosi, acting under pressure from her colleagues, announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump last week.

You could hear cheers of praise erupt for Pelosi across the country, and suddenly the truth was silent. The whistle-blower complaint, which alleged that President Trump threatened to withhold a military aid package to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian president carried out an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, swept the nation in what some called “the new Watergate.”

Now Democrats are inquiring into whether the president can be impeached for apparently attempting to coerce Ukraine to investigate a political foe, a move they call “unconstitutional.”

Clearly people are jumping to conclusions. The White House released the transcript in question. While the mainstream media said Trump offered quid pro quo military aid in exchange for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, the transcript shows otherwise. President Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky:

“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.”

Trump made a request — not a bribe and certainly not a demand.

In 2014, Biden spearheaded American efforts to support the Ukrainian government amid Russian aggression and corruption charges. So, when Hunter Biden joined Ukrainian gas company Burisma, bringing in nearly $50 thousand a month, things became a bit suspicious. The situation turned heads when Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire top prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who was leading an investigation into Burisma’s owner. Shokin was fired almost immediately.

In a recent press conference, President Trump brought up a letter sent to Ukraine’s prosecutor general by three Democrats in 2018, in which they urged the Ukrainian government to comply with the U.S. during the Mueller investigation.

CNN reported on the story. In the article, CNN breaks down the President’s claims. First, they wrote “A request, not a threat,” followed by a sub-headline reading “The 2018 letter from Sens. Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin and Bob Menendez did not include any threat at all, about U.S. assistance to Ukraine or anything else; it did not even mention U.S. assistance.”

Yet, when CNN reported on Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, Trump’s request turned into a threat to withhold military aid despite no explicit threat in the transcript (again, nowhere to be found in the transcript).

CNN ran with this storyline, which was echoed by Democrats across the nation, that suddenly the President’s mere request to investigate a situation in which a former Vice President quite clearly abused his political privileges to get someone fired (who also just happened to be investigation his son) was an impeachable defense because of the suggestion that Trump withheld military aid unless Ukraine complied.

The whole situation is a mess. Democrats were vying to bring impeachment charges. When the whistle-blower complaint sounded, Democrats jumped on it, claiming this was clear evidence Trump violated the Constitution by threatening to withhold aid in exchange for a foreign government to spy on a political foe. When the transcript was released their claim flew out the door as there is no evidence Trump threatened to withhold aid.

According to the Constitution, a president can be impeached for cases of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

So, can Trump still be impeached on the grounds of bribery or treason?

No, Trump asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden’s son was not bribery or treason, according to the recorded conversation.

In what seems to be most damaging to the Democrats’ desperate attempt to paint this scenario as a clearly impeachable offense, Trump did not threaten to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine if they did not investigate Biden, so he did not engage in bribery according to Constitutional definitions.

If you want to question the ethics surrounding the President’s request, by all means, knock yourself out. But to turn a question of ethics – if even that – into a  definitive impeachable offense is absurd.


Brianna Lyman, FCRH ’20, is an International Political Economy major from Dobbs Ferry, New York.