The stories around President Trump and his colleagues’ activities in Ukraine have settled down into a pattern, so as an enthusiastic amateur I’ll try to tie some threads together.
At this point it is fairly obvious that the President and his staff have asked for two favors from Ukraine, possibly in exchange for much-needed American aid and recognition. (That “possibly” is the crux of the impeachment hearings.) First, they want Ukrainian authorities to cooperate in an investigation into interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Second, they want Ukraine authorities to open investigations into Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that was previously under investigation, and whether former Vice President Joe Biden encouraged the previous investigation to end.
The strange part is that we pretty much know what happened in both of those circumstances. The Russian government interfered in our election both through a disinformation campaign and hacking into the DNC email server. That was half of the Mueller Report. Russians were indicted. It was a whole thing! Hunter Biden, in the annoying kind of low-level shadiness that pervades politics, was likely on the board of Burisma for PR and lobbying purposes, but the Ukrainians have already stated that the previous investigation of Burisma ended with no findings. If anything, Joe Biden’s pressure to get a corrupt chief prosecutor out of office made it more likely someone would take the Burisma case seriously.
So why are we encouraging the newly elected Ukrainian President to reopen closed cases, through public, diplomatic, and Rudy Giuliani means? What’s the motivation?
To understand, you have to drop into a world of half-thought-out conspiracy theories pushed by Giuliani and how they play to our current President. You also need to think about piles of money just sitting around, waiting to be invested in Miami condos.
In the case of Russian election interference, it’s clear that President Trump is not overly concerned with Russian involvement. There was a recent report that he told the Russian ambassador that he didn’t care about the election interference, because the United States did things just as bad. Even if that isn’t true, his reluctance to address it verbally or legally shows where he stands. (And why would he care? It coincided with what he wanted.)
However, Russian election interference has done two things: It has cast a pall over the President’s election, and it has hurt relations between the United States and Russia. Russia and its oligarchs are currently under sanction for that and several other sins, meaning they can’t launder money as easily in the US.
It has to gall President Trump to hear that his election wasn’t “legitimate.” (For the record, I don’t buy that argument. There are a lot of reasons elections are won and lost, and he won it as fairly as most.) No one wants to think they would have lost without help, particularly not a narcissist who has spent a lifetime building an “I am great” narrative. He casts himself as the underdog most times, rising up and defeating an entrenched political establishment. There isn’t room for election interference in that story.
It must be very seductive to hear Giuliani telling you all about the latest Infowars/Russian disinfo campaign that blames election interference on Ukraine and sets that interference squarely against Donald Trump’s campaign. I mean, they are responsible for your former campaign manager Paul Manafort being in jail after revealing evidence he was paid millions by the corrupt, pro-Russian former regime. Plus, they might have “The Server” from the DNC, according to conspiracy theories I’ve never been able to make sense of. What if the Mueller Report was completely wrong? What if the Ukrainians were interfering against you? You could pardon Manafort! You would have won against the odds! You’re a winner!
Besides, if that’s the case, your friend Vladimir Putin and Russia are being unfairly maligned. There’s no reason for sanctions and freezing oligarchs’ ability to spend money in the US. And it turns out they have a lot of money that they need to move into investments outside of Russia. Largely in real estate, and you can understand that because real estate is how you make your own money. Maybe you can do business someday? (Or keep doing it?)
So, like a lot of folks, you see the equivalent of a Facebook share about how the Ukrainians were behind it all and believe it, but unlike a lot of folks, you’ve got Rudy Giuliani working as your private investigator and you can tell the Attorney General and Secretary of State to go out and find anything that will prove that Mueller was wrong, and you (and Russia) were framed, and your office has the power to “strongly suggest” that the new Ukrainian government help you find out the “truth.”
What about the second part? That seems pretty obvious. If Joe Biden is running against Trump, and there’s some good dirt on him, Trump wants it. That seems pretty clearcut, and it’s at the center of the current impeachment hearings.
However, listening to Rudy Giuliani’s ramblings, I suspect there’s a deeper purpose. Giuliani keeps talking about how the whole Obama Administration was corrupt and he’s the one who can bring them down. President Trump keeps throwing in asides about how former President Obama should be investigated over various deals he made after leaving the White House. I don’t think they want to stop with Biden. President Trump, for reasons of his own, has always hated President Obama. At times it almost seems pathological. It must be very attractive to hear Giuliani say he can get dirt on Biden, on Clinton, on other former Cabinet members, and maybe even President Obama.
That would make everything fall into place. His election was legitimate. His primary competition has to drop out of the race for reelection. He can do business with his friends again. He’s better than Obama. He’s a winner. And all for the low, low price of just putting a little pressure on a few countries to come back with the right results.
You ever wonder why Nixon cheated in 1972 when all indications were he’d win in a landslide? Part of it was that’s just the way he normally did business, and it’s hard to change it up. Part of it was that he wanted to beat Kennedy and LBJ’s margins. Pride is a powerful drug.
Unfortunately for Nixon, his crew wasn’t the most competent. Unfortunately for Trump, Rudy Giuliani is Inspector Clouseau in this movie.