Ron Sievert is a Texas A&M associate professor of practice and director of the Certificate in Advanced International Affairs Program.
We have gone through months of nonsense statements on the Ukraine investigation proclaimed and written by both political parties but mostly sponsored by the media. Before I became a law professor, I was a trial attorney for 30 years, 25 of which I spent as a supervisory trial attorney with the Department of Justice. Based on that extensive experience, I believe I may have picked up an ear for evidence and truth that at least exceeds those who pontificate on the nightly news. So let me try to cut through the clutter, summarize what we have learned about Ukraine and hopefully leave perhaps a more accurate record for posterity. This information is important both for our citizens as they reflect today and because of the need for historical accuracy.
Did President Donald Trump have a quid pro quo holding aid for investigations? The answer is very likely yes, but also no.
Leaders and managers change their minds often. We should, in the end, hold them to what they do, not what they said on first blush or during wargaming with staff. For example, Roosevelt did not line up all Nazi officers and shoot them, Nixon did not nuke Hanoi, although both said at one time it would be a good idea. Reading the reactions of those around him, John Bolton’s leak and considering the President’s readiness to speak his mind, it is very likely that at some point early on President Trump said something similar to, “Those Ukrainians are corrupt, and I’m not giving them anything until they get off their butts and do these investigations.” But it is also likely that a few hours or days afterward he thought better of it (maybe with some advice) and stated, “No quid pro quo, I just want them to do the right thing.” For some reason, the media and politicians act like it has to be one or the other. That is not how managers discuss matters and make decisions.
Did President Trump demand Ukraine investigate Joe Biden as repeated routinely by media and politicians? The answer is not exactly.
The witnesses in the House consistently testified that President Trump demanded “investigations.” The media and the Democrats always translated this phrase into “the President demanded an investigation into Joe Biden or the Bidens.” But given an opportunity to explain, the witnesses always said this involved the DNC server, Ukraine attacks on the President in 2016 and Hunter Biden’s likely corrupt relationship with Burisma. No one ever testified that the President asked them to have Ukraine initiate a general investigation of Joe Biden despite the media and endless political repetition of that phrase. A close reading of the phone call transcript shows the President stating that Biden’s dismissal of the prosecutor was horrible, and asking Ukraine to look into the removal of the prosecutor. However, there is no open-ended request for an investigation into Joe Biden.
Did Russia or Ukraine interfere in the 2016 election? The answer is both and others as well.
The media mocked the Republicans for saying the President wanted to look into why Ukraine interfered against him in the 2016 election because, as the media proclaimed, “We all know it was Russia that interfered against Hilary.” It does not have to be one or the other. The fact is: in a global world, many nations, including the U.S., interfere in an effort to obtain the outcome they want. Russia interfered and so did some Ukrainians.
Finally, the question never asked: should the relatives of presidential candidates get a pass on corruption investigations because of political fall out if they are investigated?
The answer is obviously no. Thomas Jefferson had his political rival Aaron Burr indicted for treason. Trump should not have raised Hunter and Joe Biden’s acts on the phone call. He should have left that to the Attorney General — and he did later in the call say that the Attorney General will be looking into this. But of course, if the attorney general had done it himself, we all know the media and opposition would have still blamed the president since the attorney general works for him. Regardless, they could not have ignored Hunter Biden’s position and salary at Burisma, provided only after after his father was assigned Ukraine policy.