Margaret Valenti writes on the hearing of Gordon Sondland and the July 25th phone, the ramification of which hurts U.S. international and domestic interests.
From Wednesday morning into early afternoon, Gordon Sondland, a United States diplomat and businessman, testified to Congress about an alleged quid-pro-quo that unfolded when President Trump implied that Volodymyr Zelensky should open an investigation into Ukraine in return for continued military aid. Congress asked Sondland, in many ways, what took place was a “quid-pro-quo”, which is not explicitly illegal, but an act which places conflict on the U.S. national security policy and an act that is at its core unprofessional.
Sondland testified in his opening statement that, “yes”, a quid-pro-quo took place; Trump implied that Zelensky should investigate Hunter Biden’s dealings with Burisma, a Ukrainian conglomerate which deals with natural gas, and Joe Biden’s dealings in Ukraine in relation to U.S. foreign policy and in return Trump would get Zelensky a meeting with him in the White House. Without a clear answer as to why the aid was withheld, from anyone inside the White House, Soland was left to conclude that the aid was withheld because Turmp wanted Ukraine to investigage the Bidens.
There was no confirmation from Sondland about whether Trump withheld military aid for the express purpose of providing further, monetary incentive for Zelensky and his government to start an investigation. Sondland did say that the withholding of military aid from Ukraine made him uncomfortable, especially when he could find so reason for why the White House did not send the aid immediately after Congress approved it. Instead, the White House waited fourteen days to send the aid.
Withhold Military Aid Without A Clear Reason, Create Division
There are all kinds of reasons why The White House or Congress might delay or deny the giving of foreign aid: corruption of a country’s government, human rights abuses at the hands of a government or other forces within the state, the government in question is a threat to U.S. national security, and the U.S. might withhold military aid in order not to pick sides during a conflict. From the White House’s narrative, Trump was afraid that Ukraine did not remove corruption from the government when its previous leader Viktor Yanukovych, went into forced exile in southern Russia. The extra fourteen days, according to the White House, were necessary to ensure that the U.S. gave money to a legitimate, uncorrupt government.
Trump claimed that afternoon in a press gaggle during the hearings that “he [Sondland] asks me the question: ‘What do you want? I keep hearing all of these things. What do you want?’ So, here’s my answer: I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing . . . This is the final word…from the President of the United States. I want nothing. ” Soland told Congress the same thing, that President Trump told him he wanted nothing. Many take this statement with a grain of salt, claiming that Trump is lying. Given his track record with telling the truth, that may be the case. The statement he made directly contradicts what Sondland said, along with others who testified before Congress over the past couple of weeks.
These hearings play with word-games, used by both political parties, to form a coherent narrative. The thing is that a coherent narrative is not what this President usually provides. Confusion, chaos, is purposeful because if everyone is confused about what happened than no one can take the blame for what happened. To more anyone listens to the hearings, the more confused they get. In every moment, they cite emails and correspondence, meetings, and hearsay that the public has no access to. With each new Congressperson ready to ask questions, it seems as if another narrative begins to spin. The question then becomes how much the public, and the government, cares about appearances.
Foreign Policy For The Sake Of Decorum
How does a President asking for a quid-pro-quo to investigate the dealings of a political opponent with a foreign government, as was their job, help the U.S. at all? Whether what Trump did was illegal or not is almost secondary. The act many not be illegal, but one thing that is true Trump did not do what he did with the interest of the U.S. public in mind. That is abundantly clear. Having the Ukraine investigate the Biden’s, regardless of what they may or may not have done, does absolutely nothing except display Trump’s blatant ignorance surrounding — or contempt for — U.S. policy and intelligence.
What he did was not smart and a disservice to U.S. foreign policy. While no one can agree on what happened during the call and if it was illegal or not, that much is clear. Even though the Ukrainian government never gave a public statement announcing the investigations and Donald Trump never explicitly stated exactly what he wanted to anyone who is testifying, the results of these hearings prove that Trump, The White House, and other associates, for certain, acted inappropriately. There is a reason the U.S. conducts foreign policy the way it does, to set an example and be a clear and concise voice that the world can rely on.
When the U.S. fails to conduct foreign policy in an appropriate manner, it has international ramifications. The ramification of the Ukraine scandal and the July 25th phone call, though largely self-contained, is a lack of confidence in the way the U.S. conducts internal and foreign matters. That lack of confidence could mean the future U.S. that falls off the world stage as a reliable, reassuring presence. The U.S. may no longer be the voice the world turns to on international affairs, hurts U.S. foreign policy as much as it does U.S. national policy. If faith in the U.S. waivers, the world will no longer serve the U.S. interests without question, as is the current situation.
For the sake of national and international policy, the Ukraine call, if nothing else serves to remind the citizens and politicians of the U.S. that sometimes, appearances are important because international opinions matter and diverting away from how the U.S. conducts foreign policy does everyone a disservice. What is at stake in these hearings is not just whether what Trump did was illegal or not, it is about how the U.S. wants to see itself on the world stage for generations to come and a reminder that every action the government takes should be, to some degree, in the interest of the people.
The Trump-Ukraine scandal should show the people that there are those who do not wish to work for the people, but for themselves. If for no other reason, Congress should impeach Trump for a lack of decorum on the world stage and for taking an action as head of state without a clear benefit for the people of the U.S.