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White collar criminologist Bill Black outlines why the case against Trump was strong even without a quid pro quo with Ukraine, and that his defense strategy now gives reason for obstruction of justice charges.

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GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

A group of Republican members of Congress staged a protest at a closed-door hearing of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, which was about to hear testimony related to the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump. Only members of the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Foreign Affairs Committees are allowed to be present at that hearing. The protests though, managed to scuttle the hearing, where Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, was supposed to testify. So far, the House impeachment investigation has issued subpoenas to the White House, the Defense Department, the Budget Office, and other agencies.

Many of those subpoenaed have refused to comply, however, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Vice President Mike Pence, among many others. On Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., who was the top American diplomat in Ukraine, testified that Trump, indeed, withheld $391 million in foreign aid to Ukraine and refused a White House meeting until President Zelensky announced investigation into prominent Democrats. He basically dismantled Trump’s claim that there was no quid pro quo.

Joining me now to discuss the Democrats’ impeachment investigation into Donald Trump is Bill Black. Bill is a white collar criminologist, former financial regulator, and associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He is also the author of the book, The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Thanks for joining us again, Bill.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: So let’s start, not with Trump, but with Joe Biden. It would seem that all of this impeachment controversy does, to some extent, hinge on what Joe Biden did or didn’t do for his son, Hunter, with regard to the Ukraine. Republicans and Trump suggest that Hunter Biden was involved in some sort of corruption by being on the board of a Ukrainian company. What’s your take on this?

BILL BLACK: Well, first, I don’t agree that it hinges on it. Legally, it most assuredly doesn’t hinge on it. Even if Joe Biden had done corrupt things in the Ukraine, Trump can’t tie the provision of foreign aid voted by the United States Congress to whether the Ukrainian government will investigate his political opponent. Beyond that, the Democrats keep using the wrong phrase, that Trump wants them, or Giuliani wants them to dig up dirt on Biden and Hunter Biden. That would not be terrible, right? If there were actually dirt there and it was covered up, you certainly want Ukrainian investigators, on their own, to investigate it. What Trump wants is not dirt to be uncovered that actually exists. He wants it created. He wants a smear campaign. And it’s all premised on this fundamental lie that this former Ukrainian prosecutor, who was a non-prosecutor, was actually vigorously going after Hunter Biden, and that Joe Biden used his power as vice president and leader of the efforts on getting that prosecutor fired, to quash this investigation.

So that’s one of the two claims. The second claim is even crazier. And the second claim is that there is a, quote unquote, “server,” when of course there are actually roughly 90 to 200 servers, and that, supposedly, this server at the DNC was funneled secretly out of the United States to keep the FBI from finding it, and for some reason, sent to the Ukraine. And it’s just, it’s Pizza Gate style craziness. Beyond that, why was Hunter Biden getting $50,000 a month? Hunter Biden is someone who has huge problems with alcohol, with drugs, with women. He’s a really messed up individual with no skills relevant to the task. He was getting $50,000 a month. So when we say there’s nothing wrong, of course there’s something wrong with this. This is the powerful and the kids of the powerful who are paid off. And there’s only one reason they’re paid off, and that is that corrupt people hope to influence the powerful elected official.

And by the way, we just had guilty pleas to all of this by Deutsche Bank, for example, where they did this in spades for the Chinese princelings and such, as a way of getting business. So that’s a bad thing. And it’s obviously not in any way unique to the Bidens. The entire Trump family and in-laws are quintessential examples of this at a much higher level. But that isn’t a crime. There is no credible evidence of a crime in any of this. There’s also the point that… judgment. And as vice president of the United States, Joe Biden took this lead in the Ukraine and continued it knowing that his son was in this situation that was easily spun as a conflict of interest. And so, in jargon, he created an apparent conflict of interest. You’re not supposed to do that. That’s terrible judgment. And you’re just handing people ammunition to use against you. So in the electability issue, in the “who’s the reasonable, moderate, responsible type,” Joe Biden demonstrated incredibly poor judgment and dramatically harmed his electability prospects; and did it completely gratuitously.

Joe Biden had no expertise in the Ukraine. There was absolutely no reason for him to take the lead, particularly with his son having that role. Anyone with judgment would have said, “Hey, leave it to the professionals,” right? And it’s a criticism of Trump validly as well, as he brings in people who have no expertise in the Ukraine, who simply in his case gave his campaign cheer election stuff over a million bucks and bought himself–this is Sondland–an ambassadorship. Well, yes, all administrations do some of that, but it’s not good. And we should work strongly against it. So when Biden’s folks say, “We did nothing wrong.” Well, yeah, you did things that were wrong. You didn’t do things that were remotely criminal or impeachable. And so you’re here in the way of abuses, and Trump is off the charts in the way of abuses. But again, you gave him a freebie. And our lesson when we were regulators cracking down on the most powerfully connected political types was never give freebies, right? So we lived this life of super probity because we knew they would use anything against us. Biden just should have done the same thing.

GREG WILPERT: Let’s turn to Trump actually, to the impeachment investigation. Now, the evidence actually seems pretty solid right now that there, indeed, was a quid pro quo for US aid to the Ukraine in exchange for an investigation. What is your take on this situation? Is the impeachment a done deal at this point?

BILL BLACK: Well, nothing’s a done deal because we’ve just seen how, in the last three weeks, the smart money proved completely wrong that there wouldn’t be an impeachment. So it’s immensely subject to developments. So first, in terms of the law, you don’t need a quick pro quo. And you shouldn’t gratuitously take on an extra burden of proof. Just trying to get the head of the Ukraine to investigate your political opponent is already a classic abuse of power that would constitute, within the way the framers of the Constitution thought it, an obvious example of a high crime and misdemeanor. Further, the obstruction that you talked about in the introduction would also do so. And has, in fact … That precise charge has been used by both major political parties in modern times as a legitimate basis for impeachment.

That said, if you do seek a quid pro quo, then that is a clear crime. And the failure of Barr and the supposed investigation, non-investigation, they had of this, to charge anything on the absurd grounds that what Trump was seeking was not, and I quote, “a thing of value.” Why? Because it couldn’t be quantified. It couldn’t be counted. That’s preposterous. Just, it would destroy the entire intent. It would be incredibly easy to evade the law in those circumstances and accomplish everything Congress was trying to prevent. So that’s actually a third ground of impeachment, or a grounds why Barr should be impeached as well in all of these things. So, yes. Now, the late night talk show hosts have it right. I mean, the headlines should read: “Top US Diplomat in the Ukraine Confirms What Trump and Mulvaney Already Confessed.” Yes, there was a quid pro quo.

GREG WILPERT: So just to touch quickly on that last topic, I mean, not last one, the one you mentioned about obstruction of justice, we saw the Republicans trying to prevent it, but what … prevent the hearing that is, but what obstruction are you concretely referring to?

BILL BLACK: The refusal to provide witnesses and documents. Similar refusals in the past by both parties have been charged as the official grounds … So both parties are on record as saying, “This constitutes an appropriate basis to, not simply impeach, but to convict and remove from office an official.” This, by the way, what’s going on, is not a hearing in the usual sense. This is a staff deposition in which people like me and people that are actually investigators, not politicians, who aren’t playing for any cameras, there aren’t any cameras in the room, or at least not regular cameras, just to video tape, are asking professional, in-depth questions. And the analogue, and this again is, both parties use this analogy, this is not partisan in any way, is that the House serves like the grand jury. A grand jury typically meets in secrecy. The witnesses are permitted to talk, right? They’re not barred. But the officials conducting the grand jury-like inquiry are not supposed to be leaking the evidence that comes from it. Again, Bill Taylor’s perfectly allowed under grand jury rules to make an opening statement and to give that opening statement to the public.

For security reasons, to keep it secret, they are holding this in what’s called a SCIF. And a SCIF is an acronym that means basically a secure room where you take really stringent steps to make sure that no one can be engaged in electronic eavesdropping. And the Republicans didn’t just stage this stunt where … Remember, Republicans are in the room, right? All Republican members of the appropriate committees are fully able to attend all of this. They brought all these clowns who aren’t legitimately there. They tried it previously with just one. This time they brought like 20 of these folks. They brought their cell phones into the room. Now, you never, ever bring those kinds of electronics into a SCIF. It’s completely irresponsible. The sergeant-in-arms asked them not to do it and to give him their phones. They refused to do so. Eventually, Meadows, a senior Republican, was able to do this.

But this comes directly after Taylor’s bombshell testimony and directly after President Trump implored his people to get tough and attack the Democrats. In other words, to obstruct the testimony, the evidence finding of the grand jury-like function. That too should be a basis for impeachment. Tactically, it’s a question of how many things you’re adding in. I’m not trying to advise them on the tactics. But legally, this is yet another act of obstruction to cover up prior acts of obstruction.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well, I think this analysis is really interesting. I think it’s important. I hope many people get to see it, but we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m sure we’ll come back to you on it as the situation develops. I was speaking to Bill Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Thanks again, Bill, for having joined us today.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.