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Your guide to Ukrainegate


I DON’T imagine you are following the attempt to impeach Donald Trump too closely, gentle non-American reader. There seems little point, as the US Senate will not vote to remove him from office.

So what’s it all about and who is in the right?  Obviously, at first sight Hunter Biden appears in a bad light and so does Donald Trump.

This is what distinguishes the Ukrainian story from the Russian story, the allegation that Mr Trump was being blackmailed by Vladimir Putin and was a danger to national security. It was pretty obvious from the start that that story had no substance. The people who appeared in a bad light in that story were the CIA, FBI and MI6. Some people said that the investigation was an attempted coup by the deep state and others reacted with irrational fury to the suggestion, but it was the administration trying to get rid of Donald Trump.

Ukraine is full of Americans playing various games. Hunter Biden was one and sat on the board of a shady Ukrainian oligarch’s energy company, in a corrupt sector of a corrupt economy. 

He was paid most months more than $166,000 from the spring of 2014 till the autumn of 2015, a period when his father, Vice President Joe Biden, was the main US official in President Barack Obama’s administration dealing with Ukraine. 

He was paid that much because of who he was and what influence he had. 

This absolutely raises legitimate and important questions about his father, though I, perhaps naively, see no reason to suspect that the old man did anything wrong. (Though perhaps I am naive – see this timeline supplied by journalist John Solomon who has provided Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani with much of his information about the way the Biden family made money in and from Ukraine.)  

I imagine that Biden Sr is guilty only of having an embarrassing relative, as many politicians do (Billy Carter, Sir Mark Thatcher, Tony Blair’s father-in-law, etc).

And if Joe Biden did not do anything wrong, there is no reason to think the son did anything wrong. He probably just seized the main chance and a legal, though unattractive, way of making money out of his father’s position. Although I am just guessing here. He may have pulled a similar trick in China, it seems.

President Trump tried to get the Ukrainians to investigate the matter, obviously for his own political advantage, though without saying that military aid was dependent on their agreeing to do so. 

He wouldn’t have to. They would have known on which side their bread was buttered, except that they were not aware that aid was being suspended. In any case, according to pro-Trump Fox News, the Ukrainians were already investigating the company where Hunter Biden had ‘worked’.  

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News on November 1: ‘The president did absolutely nothing wrong. We released the transcript weeks ago for everybody to see. There was no quid pro quo. The Ukrainian government said they felt absolutely no pressure. Aid was eventually released to the Ukraine.’

Many others have made the same point, but it is a weak one. Most of the roughly $400million aid was indeed released ($35million was withheld), but this does not prove that the President did not want a quid pro quo. The money was paid after the so-called whistleblower blew his whistle on the conversation the American President had had with his Ukrainian counterpart, in which he asked for two investigations, one into Hunter Biden and the other into whether the Ukrainians were responsible for trying to influence the 2016 election in Hillary Clinton’s favour. 

Does he really think the Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election? Or does he see it as a way (like questioning Obama’s birthplace) of injuring and triggering Democrats? If the latter, that is clever of him. If the former, he takes seriously what Fiona Hill, a former official at the U.S. National Security Council testifying to the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee on Thursday, called

‘A fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.’

In so doing she made very clear her view of the Trumpian world view, which holds that little danger to the USA is posed by Russia, unlike by illegal immigrants. 

She made her distaste for Donald Trump’s political philosophy even more clear when she told the committee that the word ‘globalism’ was ‘an anti-Semitic trope’.

People like Fiona Hill are described as ‘policy wonks’ but policy is always underpinned by a political philosophy, and that of the wonks is very far from that of Donald Trump. Immediately after his election Hill described his victory on the Brookings Institute website as the ‘contemporary American version of a Bolshevik revolution’.   

I am, on balance, pleased that the President does not rely for information only on the official narrative of events but knows about the right-wing media slants. They share his outlook. The CIA and State Department do not. In any case, there would have been nothing wrong in the US President asking Ukraine to investigate the matter.

The whistle-blower is apparently a young left-wing Democrat who joined the CIA because he liked Obama’s policy in the Middle East and took an optimistic view of the Muslim Brotherhood. He presumably wants to damage Donald Trump for partisan reasons. He is a protege of John Brennan, the former CIA director who is Donald Trump’s overt enemy and was convinced that the Russian allegations against Donald Trump had substance.

Fiona Hill is a decent and ferociously intelligent Anglo-American, who worked in the Administration to do the best she could for one of her two countries, though presumably (and understandably) utterly out of sympathy with the President.

You could say that this was dutiful and honourable of her and you could say that this makes her a deep state mole. That is, someone labouring to prevent Mr Trump implementing the policy proposals on which he was elected. Both are probably true. Both are probably ways of saying the same thing. Both are probably true of the great majority of people in positions of responsibility in the US Administration.

Hill left her post before the telephone call so it is not entirely clear why she is testifying. She rightly sees Vladimir Putin as a bad guy and is wrong if she thinks that Russia should matter a lot to the US. 

My conclusion is that the President behaved badly in a way I’d expect, overstepped an important mark in his telephone call but committed no crime. Is his behaviour bad enough to deserve impeachment? That is a meaningless question. There are no real legal reasons for impeachment, only political ones.

Mr Obama ordered the killing of an American citizen abroad without being impeached. 

In any case, Donald Trump will not be removed from office. The impeachment will fail in the Senate and the Democrats know that. It will make the Democrats look like establishment politicians trying to remove an elected President. It will force Republican Senators to defend a president they do privately loathe, but are saddled with. 

I don’t think there is any reason for people outside the USA to follow the story closely, except for the light it will shed on what was happening in Ukraine under the last administration and this, which should be very interesting.

There is a good film in that but, if made by Hollywood, it will take a strongly pro-Democrat line. Joe Biden will be an aged hero, grown old in the service of the Republic, and his son perhaps a comic figure, an innocent at large.

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Paul Wood
Paul Wood

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