Democrats Need to Break Their Cold War–Addled Impeachment Fever


Donald Trump’s far-right administration is one of the most dangerous in US history, which makes the disappointment over the imminent failure of his impeachment case understandable. But the impeachment proceedings never challenged what actually makes the Trump White House so fraught. In adopting hawkish Cold War chauvinism toward Russia, Democratic House impeachment managers embraced rather than opposed a perilous right-wing agenda. They did this while presenting a weak, overblown, and hypocritical case that posed no threat to Trump.

The holes in the Democrats’ impeachment case were apparent from the start, and the House proceedings and Senate trial brought them to the fore. The lone witness who communicated with Trump about the frozen military funding to Ukraine—and, even more crucially, the only Trump official thought to have relayed a quid pro quo to the Ukrainian side—is EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. But Sondland testified that the link between aid and the opening of investigations was only his “presumption” and that he had communicated this presumption only in passing. Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, and Zelensky aide Andriy Yermak, have all said that they saw no ties between the frozen funding and pressure to open investigations.

In the face of rejections by top Ukrainian officials of his core allegation, Schiff has mischaracterized the available evidence and engaged in supposition. Sondland, according to Schiff’s account, told Yermak, “You ain’t getting the money until you do the investigations.” But both Sondland and Yermak offer a radically different account. According to Sondland, he told Yermak in “a very, very brief pull-aside conversation,” that he “didn’t know exactly why” the military funding was held up, and that its linkage to opening an investigation was only his “personal presumption” in the absence of an explanation from Trump. Yermak does not even recall the issue of the frozen aid being mentioned.

To overcome that, Schiff has gone to the extraordinary step of arguing that it’s not just Sondland who is lying but the Ukrainians as well. “Like they’re going to admit they were being shaken down by the president of the United States,” Schiff told the proceedings.

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