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Ukraine vs. Iran-Contra

Donald Trump is an awful President.  He’s a bad man pursuing bad policies, but I don’t think that is a basis for impeachment.  It is arguable that impeachment would prevent him from doing more harm to the country, but the people who voted for him may not see what he is doing as harmful.  Whether he got a majority of votes or not, he was elected by the electoral college and is the legal President of the United States.  We have never had a President removed from office by impeachment.  Nixon resigned; Johnson and Clinton won their impeachment trials in the Senate.  So far, I do not believe that Trump has been shown to be guilty of a serious crime that would warrant impeachment.

The Mueller investigation of Moscow’s involvement in the Trump campaign was very thorough and did not find any impeachable offenses.  The Democrats then moved on to an entirely new justification for impeaching Trump — his conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky — linking an investigation into Joe Biden’s son to military assistance to Ukraine.  Peggy Noonan wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal comparing the Ukrainian affair with President Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.  While Noonan, who was Reagan’s speechwriter, tried to defend Reagan, on closer inspection Iran-Contra seems to be a much more serious impeachable offense than Trump’s Ukrainian imbroglio.  According to Wikipedia:

 The Reagan administration’s policy towards Nicaragua produced a major clash between the executive and legislative arms as Congress sought to limit, if not curb altogether, the ability of the White House to support the Contras.[15]:965 Direct U.S. funding of the Contras insurgency was made illegal through the Boland Amendment,[7] the name given to three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting U.S. government assistance to Contra militants. Funding ran out for the Contras by July 1984, and in October a total ban was placed in effect. The second Boland Amendment, in effect from 3 October 1984 to 3 December 1985, stated:

During the fiscal year 1985 no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose of or which may have the effect of supporting directly or indirectly military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, organization, group, movement, or individual.[15]:965

In violation of the Boland Amendment, senior officials of the Reagan administration continued to secretly arm and train the Contras and provide arms to Iran, an operation they called “the Enterprise”.[16][17] As the Contras were heavily dependent upon U.S. military and financial support, the second Boland amendment threatened to break the Contra movement and led to President Reagan in 1984 to order the National Security Council (NSC) to “keep the Contras together ‘body and soul'”, no matter what Congress voted for.[15]:965

In addition to violating the Boland Amendment, Reagan broke long-standing US policy not to pay for the release of hostages being held by Iran.  He dealt with a sworn enemy of the US – Iran – that had imprisoned American embassy staff for over a year, but one which had strongly supported Reagan for President because it hated Jimmy Carter so much.  Iran’s support for Reagan was not unlike Russia’s support for Trump because Russia hated Hillary Clinton.  Reagan’s cooperation with Iran cold be seen as payback for Iran’s support for Reagan in the previous election.

Thus, it is arguable that Reagan’s Iran-Contra was a much more serious offense than Trump’s Ukrainian conversation.  Secretary of State Shultz was appalled by Iran-Contra and forced Reagan to take measures to remedy it, which may have saved the Reagan administration from impeachment.  Reagan had a much better relationship with the Democrats than Trump has.  In any case, the fact that Reagan was not impeached for Iran-Contra is an argument against impeaching Trump now.


What is the quid pro quo?

In discussing the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., and the Russian lawyer Vel…, the Mueller Report said that campaign dirt on a political opponent, as offered by Russia, was not a thing-of-value, and therefore not something that could be a quid pro quo.

While this is a debatable point, nobody in the commentariat is talking about it.  There is an additional element, the $400 million for Ukraine, but this cash is not a benefit to Trump.  Withholding it may be inappropriate but may not be illegal, and in any event,  Trump finally released it.

Few legal issues are black and white.  The fact that no one is talking about the legal aspects of the Ukrainian deal lends credence to Trump’s claims that the House impeachment hearings are a kangaroo court or a lynching, because it looks like a rush to judgment disregarding legal niceties,  In addition, the media looks like it does not understand the legal issues involved.  They ignore the Mueller Report because it was too balanced and legalistic.  Tey want something clear and simple, but impeachment legal issues are not clear and simple.

I think the Democrats might have a better chance of removing Trump under the 25th Amendment than through impeachment, although the Lawfare blog argues that it would more difficult. It might be even more difficult because Trump has so few confirmed Cabinet secretaries.  Nevertheless, the 25th Amendment seems appropriate for Trump’s craziness, although he is probably not legally mentally incompetent.

In any case, I think it is questionable that the Ukraine imbroglio is a sufficient basis for impeachment.  The Democrats need to broaden the impeachment to cover his inept handling of other issues, not only in foreign policy, but his repeated lying, and mishandling of other issues. If the House wants to include failure to respond to their subpoenas, they should vote to make this an official impeachment process. Focusing on Ukraine alone is too narrow.