The Democrats claim their articles of impeachment against Trump are a solid case. The Nation and Grayzone contributor Aaron Maté argues that they are actually quite weak, and only serve corporate Democrats’ interest in feeding Russiagate paranoia.


Story Transcript

JERROLD NADLER: Today, in service to our duty to the constitution and to our country, the House Committee on the Judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

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

That was Representative Jerrold Nadler announcing the introduction of two articles of impeachment against prison Trump. He went to summarize the articles as follows.

JERROLD NADLER: It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest. That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election.

GREG WILPERT: The first article alleges Trump’s abuse of power with regard to asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who was on the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian company Burisma, as well as withholding nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine, all for its confrontation with Russia.

The second article of impeachment deals with obstruction of justice in connection with his White House’s refusal to comply with subpoenas for White House officials in the impeachment investigation. Republicans reacted to the impeachment process as follows.

JERROLD NADLER: Do you agree with the president that that call was perfect? That’s what we want presidents to do.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: The question we have before is: is that call impeachable? Even their own witnesses–you asked a question, please let me answer. Thank you. Nothing on that phone call is wrong. That was a case that has already been open. The Attorney General was already looking into it. They’re so brazen that the dislike, that they will change the rule of law to impeach him. No. The question is: is it impeachable? And the answer is absolutely no.

GREG WILPERT: President Trump expressed his usual outrage tweeting “Nadler just said that I pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 election. Ridiculous. And he knows that is not true. Both the president and Foreign Minister of Ukraine said many times there was no pressure. Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge.”

Joining me now to discuss the impeachment against President Trump is Aaron Maté. Aaron is host of Pushback, which airs on the website Grayzone, and he’s also a contributor to the magazine, The Nation. Thanks for joining us today, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you, Greg. Great to be back on The Real News.

GREG WILPERT: So you have been a critic of this impeachment process for a while now. Let me start with getting your take on these articles of impeachment. What do you make of them on and do the Democrats succeed in justifying Trump’s impeachment with these two articles?

AARON MATÉ: Well, overall I see this as an extension of a dynamic that pretty much began when Trump was elected, which is that the neoliberal centrists who run the Democratic party have been resisting being an actual resistance. Instead of opposing Trump on his actual policies and forming an alternative, especially trying to appeal to those voters who were duped into believing that Trump was an anti-establishment candidate, Democrats have doubled down with the establishment and clung to unelected national security state bureaucrats to resist him. And I think that Ukrainegate is an extension of that.

When it comes to these articles of impeachment, look, near the beginning the Democrats say here that Trump compromised the national security of the United States. Presumably they mean by withholding this military funding to Ukraine. And a few things here. First of all, they should have to explain what they mean by that because that’s a very serious allegation. Do they seriously mean that briefly putting on hold some military funding to Ukraine is a threat to U.S. National security? We heard at the impeachment hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee from witnesses who said that we’re fighting Russia, that we’re arming Ukraine so that they can fight the Russians so that we don’t have to fight them here. But does anybody seriously believe that? And if Democrats are trying to make that argument, it’s farcical.

It’s especially farcical because President Obama, when he was in office, he faced heavy bipartisan pressure, including from some of the Democrats star witnesses, to send lethal assistance to Ukraine. The very assistance that Trump briefly paused, and Obama rightfully I think said no. So according to the argument put forward in the Democrats articles of impeachment, they’re basically accusing President Obama when he refused throughout his entire Presidency during the time he was asked to do it, to refuse to send the military assistance, they’re essentially accusing him of endangering U.S. national security, which is a joke.

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And look, what I think should have happened from the start is very simple. I think that Trump bringing up Joe Biden with a foreign leader and asking for an investigation, I think that was inappropriate. I think that was unethical. I think you could even call it an abuse of office. What I think Democrats should have done is put this to a censure vote and I think that would have even put some pressure on Republicans in Congress. Instead they turned this into an impeachment saga which requires a very heavy burden of proof, one that I don’t think they’ve met, which we can talk about if you want. And also has a lot of consequences, including sidelining a very important democratic primary and leading to a Senate trial that will lead to Trump’s acquittal, anyway. So in terms of whether Democrats have made a strong case here, no. And do I think that this is worth the political consequences? Certainly not.

GREG WILPERT: Well actually that’s exactly what I wanted to touch on next is kind of the evidence behind some of the arguments. I mean, one of the main kind of problems that you’ve pointed out in in some of your programs and articles is that they never, that is the Democrats, never actually prove that Trump actually conditioned military aid on a White House meeting. Sorry, conditioned military aid and a White House meeting on investigations into the Bidens and the alleged interference of Ukraine into the 2016 election. That this connection or this quid pro quo as it has been called is somehow proven.

Now we actually have a contributor, Bill Black, who argues that it doesn’t matter. There doesn’t need to be a quid pro quo because each one of those actions in and of itself is a crime in of itself. In other words demanding an investigation into political rivalry and holding up military aid, those two acts on their own would be impeachable offenses. What do you make of that kind of an argument and the evidence basically?

AARON MATÉ: Well, I certainly think that demanding an investigation in this context is unethical. To say it’s a crime I think is dubious. The problem is some of the investigations that Trump was demanding, demanding an investigation into Burisma, which was the company that Hunter Biden got his lucrative board seat on, that was an investigation that was also demanded by Trump’s predecessors. The Obama administration had also been calling for investigations into Burisma and even some of the Democrat’s impeachment witnesses said that it was appropriate to call for demands into Burisma. And the same way that everybody seems to think it’s appropriate for Joe Biden as he did and bragged about, to condition U.S.A. to Ukraine on the firing of a prosecutor. The same prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.

So I think in the context of Trump bringing up a political rival with a foreign leader and asking for an investigation, I think you can say that it’s unethical. I don’t see how you can call that criminal. And certainly if you want to call it criminal then you have to meet a criminal burden of proof. And Democrats didn’t do that. Especially when it comes to the most important issue here, which is whether or not, and then the key issue, which is whether or not Trump conditioned military funding for Ukraine on the announcement of these investigations. I’ve always thought that the Democrat’s theory of the case was quite plausible. I mean certainly at the same time as Rudy Giuliani was up to whatever he was doing in Ukraine and asking for these investigations during that same period, the military funding was frozen.

But the problem is Democrats didn’t go try to subpoena people like Mike Pompeo or Rudy Giuliani or Mick Mulvaney. They instead relied on witnesses who basically had no firsthand knowledge at all. And their only witness who claimed to have firsthand knowledge and the only witness in fact who we know even communicated that there was such linkage to the Ukrainian side, was Gordon Sondland. But what did Gordon’s Sondland say when he came before Congress. He said that this linkage of military assistance and investigations in Ukraine was only his presumption and that in fact he and Trump never even discussed the military assistance specifically. That Trump never brought it up and that when he briefly mentioned it to a Ukrainian official, that that was only his presumption.

Well, you can’t make an impeachment case based on one person’s presumption. Gordon Sondland’s presumption is just as valid as the presumption of Kurt Volker, who was the U.S. Envoy to Ukraine, who said that he saw no such linkage and that’s why it never even came up in his multiple meetings with Ukrainians And that is why even the person who Sondland reportedly communicated with on the Ukrainian side, this guy, Yermack. André Yermack. He said just now in an interview with Time Magazine that he never saw there to be linkage between opening investigations and the military assistance. In fact, he doesn’t even remember this conversation with Sondland that was seen by some as the quid pro quo evidence.

So look, it’s all very convoluted and it’s also just not established. That’s why to make an impeachment case on this, which is very serious and requires I think a very heavy burden of evidence, to me, was always such a mistake.

GREG WILPERT: So finally I want to turn to the question of do you think that Trump actually deserves to be impeached? Of course, probably something that you might encounter every once in a while. And I want to put this in the context of the New York Times reporting today, that the reason that only two articles of impeachment were presented was that the democratic leadership was worried that some of the Democrats are facing a tough re-election campaign against conservatives on next year and they were afraid that these Democrats might split if there’s too much included in this impeachment process. What do you make of that argument and do you think that there should have been other or more articles of impeachment?

AARON MATÉ: Do I personally think that Trump has committed impeachable offenses? Yes. You know, ramping up U.S. support for the Saudi mass murder in Yemen. His murderous sanctions against Venezuela and Iran that have killed innocent civilians and deprived them of food and medicine. His inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. His Muslim ban. Sure, yes. But the problem with pursuing an impeachment case there for Democrats is the Democrats are complicit in many of those policies. And that’s why we’re not seeing them pursue impeachment over that. Instead, they’ve been trying to get Trump on two things throughout the Trump era. One was the moronic Russia-gate conspiracy theory, that when I was at The Real News, we did so much work trying to expose.

A) I just thought it was ridiculous, and B) I thought it was a huge gift to Trump for his opposition to be so focused on a dumb conspiracy theory and to believe that it would bring Trump down, when it did the exact opposite. It gave him the gift of having his resistance focused on whether or not there’s a pee tape and whether or not Michael Cohen went to Prague and all these dumb questions. And this false belief that unelected bureaucrats like Robert Mueller would bring him down. Which of course, none of that happened. And that is now dead. And so now I think we see in that context, we see this attempt to again, try to get Trump on this narrow Ukraine-gate saga, which again comes from the national security state for their own reasons.

So it’s something that I certainly just think it was a mistake and a big blunder. To me since we’re not going to actually get Trump on his real impeachment offenses, what I think Trump’s resistance should be focused on is building a real resistance and coming up with a political platform that exposes Trump for all the lies he told when he promised to bring people’s jobs back, and he promised to defend the working class, none of which he did. But the problem is for Democrats to do that, that would mean challenging the system that they themselves are privileged in and have power in. So they don’t want to do that.

And so I see all this, from Russiagate to Ukrainegate, as just an extension of Democrats’ resistance to being an actual resistance with dangers not just to their own political fortune. Because I think all of this ultimately helps Trump, but also to the world. Because again, from Russiagate to Ukrainegate, all of this has helped escalate tensions with Russia, which is profitable for weapons manufacturers and the people who fund Democrats like Adam Schiff, who was leading the impeachment inquiry. But it’s very dangerous for the rest of us because tensions between these two nuclear armed powers is not a good thing. And Russiagate and Ukrainegate only raise those tensions.

GREG WILPERT: That’s a really good point. But unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there. I was speaking to Aaron Maté, host of the Grayzone program, Pushback. Thanks again, Aaron for having joined us today.

AARON MATÉ: Thanks Greg.

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


Aaron Maté

Aaron Maté is a former host/producer for The Real News and a contributor to the Nation. He has previously reported and produced for Democracy Now!, Vice, and Al Jazeera, and written for the Toronto Star, the Intercept, and Le Monde Diplomatique.