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The four lessons of impeachment

Gulf News logo Gulf News 25/11/2019 Susan E. Rice
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: OPN TRUMP11-1574680365757 © Provided by Gulf News OPN TRUMP11-1574680365757

After two weeks of compelling testimony in the US House impeachment inquiry, it’s worth weighing what has emerged. Four conclusions stand out.

First, there is now overwhelming testimony and evidence that affirm the deeply troubling revelation contained in President Trump’s summary of his “perfect” July 25 phone call with the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

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(Provided by FOX News)

Trump withheld an important Oval Office meeting and nearly $400 million in urgently needed military assistance from Ukraine to compel Zelensky to open, or at least announce, two investigations — one that would seek to exonerate Russia and dishonestly implicate Ukraine in interference in the 2016 election, and another that aimed to tar former vice-president Joe Biden with false corruption charges in relation to his work on Ukraine during the Obama administration.

Both of the long-sought investigations were based on manufactured and discredited allegations, and both served only one purpose: to advantage Trump politically. It is clear that Trump abused his power to extort bogus dirt on his chief rival for personal political gain.

Some allies of the president have insisted that this is no big deal because the United States routinely leverages White House meetings and assistance to obtain concessions from foreign governments. Yet, they fail to acknowledge that such leverage is properly used only to advance American objectives — not to service the personal interests of any individual, including the president.

The separation of powers, the guard rail of US Constitution, fails when half the legislative branch abdicates its duty to hold the executive branch accountable. The cost of this failure will endure long beyond this presidency and is already signalling that our democracy is not only diminished but also increasingly dysfunctional

- Susan E. Rice

Thus, when vice-president Biden threatened to hold back economic assistance unless a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor was removed, he was acting in support of bipartisan American, European and International Monetary Fund policy to curb official corruption in Ukraine. Biden did it openly, transparently and not, as Trump has falsely claimed, to protect his son Hunter.

Second, these hearings have amply demonstrated the extraordinary calibre and character of America’s non-partisan career Foreign Service officers, civil servants and uniformed military personnel.

The intellect, integrity, selflessness and sense of duty displayed by each of the officials who testified — even in the face of harsh personal attacks and efforts at witness intimidation orchestrated by the president — are extraordinary.

They reflect the commitment to country that I witnessed every day for 16 years when I was privileged to serve alongside these kinds of apolitical officers.

Yet Trump and Republicans in Congress have denigrated and demeaned these public servants, placing them in physical danger — just because they prioritised their duty to the law and the Constitution above slavish devotion to any president. Beyond this disgrace, the president and his acolytes are assassinating the collective character of all career public servants — disparaging them as the ‘Deep State’, ‘Never-Trumpers’ and un-American.

In rhetoric that recalls the darkest days of McCarthyism, Republican leaders will seemingly stop at nothing to destroy public faith in our public servants. This is the very “deconstruction of the administrative state” that Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, heralded as the administration’s goal.

And who wins when the State Department, intelligence and law enforcement agencies and the Pentagon struggle to attract and retain top talent? Not Americans. It serves only our adversaries who want to hollow out our bureaucracy, weaken our national institutions and discredit our democratic model.

Third, it is now abundantly apparent that most Republicans in Congress have abandoned all semblance of serving the national interest. Their desperate resort to distortions, discredited conspiracy theories and blatant lies to distract from damning facts that implicate President Trump has replaced any pretence of performing their duties.

From attacking the press to smearing witnesses and refusing to engage in congressional oversight responsibilities, the Republican Party has sacrificed its principles and traditions to preserve its political power — at the expense of our country.

The separation of powers, the guard rail of US Constitution, fails when half the legislative branch abdicates its duty to hold the executive branch accountable. The cost of this failure will endure long beyond this presidency and is already signalling that our democracy is not only diminished but also increasingly dysfunctional.

And last, as Fiona Hill ably testified on Thursday, the primary beneficiary of our domestic dysfunction and divisions is President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Republicans in Congress are spouting Russian-sponsored conspiracy theories that disparage Ukraine and obscure Russian interference in America’s democracy.

President Trump consistently takes actions with respect to Nato, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere that accrue to Russian rather than American interests.

While Americans spew venom at one another, Russia is working overtime to pour salt into US wounds. Using social media every day to inflame distrust, fear and hate, Russia is pitting Americans against one another by fuelling extremes on both sides of every divisive issue, whether race, immigration or guns.

Putin seeks to dismantle democracy and destroy America’s standing as a global leader. The only question is whether America will allow him to succeed.

Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, is a contributing opinion writer.

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