A third felony indictment targeted former President Donald Trump Tuesday, as U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Counsel Jack Smith persuaded a D.C.-based grand jury to indict Trump on four felony counts for his actions to contest the results of the 2020 election. Trump already faces felony indictments from Smith in a Florida federal court for retaining classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for buying a former mistress’s silence. Both the process of indicting a former president and the charges themselves savor more of Ukrainian-style corruption than they do of American-style peaceful transition of power.
In the third indictment, Trump has been charged with four crimes: “Conspiracy to Defraud the United States,” “Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding,” “Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceeding,” and “Conspiracy against Rights.” But not everyone is convinced by the evidence presented. “I felt that the Mar-a-Lago indictment was strong. This is the inverse,” said law professor Jonathan Turley. “It’s 45 pages of First Amendment protected activity broken up by four captions listing conspiracy statutes that do not apply,” summarized lawyer and retired colonel Kurt Schlichter.
In fact, “It is far from clear that any law was broken,” agreed National Review’s (NR) Dan McLaughlin (who said in the same paragraph that “the Senate should have convicted him in his impeachment trial”). “But crimes,” he added, “are supposed to be about the law — which has to be plain enough to govern us all.” Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, also no Trump fanboy, said Smith “extravagantly stretched these statutes” to try and cover Trump’s behavior, and he tellingly stopped short of charging Trump with inciting a riot on January 6, 2021. “If you’ve got evidence that Trump committed incitement, then charge him with incitement,” McCarthy said. To dive deeper into the faults of the indictment, the NR editors compiled an excellent though lengthy analysis.
As many wiser heads have already noted, the exercise of jailing political opponents is a trademark of oppressive regimes with little respect for the rule of law — not an ordinary feature of American political life. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to Ukraine’s recent history — a history which relatively few Americans know.
Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union as the autocratic federation dissolved in 1991. However, Ukraine inherited its culture of corruption and maintained close economic and political ties to Moscow for years. Had history unfolded differently, Ukraine could have resembled the neighboring Russian puppet state of Belarus. That began to change with what is known as the Orange Revolution of 2004.
In Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, the pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko challenged the pro-Russia incumbent prime minister Viktor Yanukovich (like many parliamentary systems, Ukraine has both a popularly elected president and a prime minster chosen by the largest parliamentary coalition). At first, Yanukovich narrowly won in a run-off election, amid allegations of vote rigging and intimidation. After massive street protests, the country’s Supreme Court vacated the election results, and Yushchenko won the second run-off election. Yushchenko and Yanukovich remained the two most important figures in Ukrainian politics for the next decade.
Yanukovich won back the job of prime minister in 2006 after a minor party switched coalitions, and in 2007 President Yushchenko dissolved the parliament to stem his waning influence there. Naturally, his opponents challenged this move as unconstitutional, but when the matter came before the Constitutional Court, Yushchenko charged three of the judges with corruption and had them dismissed. This only served to drive his popularity even lower. By the 2010 presidential election, Yushchenko’s coalition had split, and his former ally Yulia Tymoshenko jumped in to make it a three-way race, and Yushchenko finished in a distant third place, while Yanukovich won.
Newly elected President Yanukovich then had his new rival, Tymoshenko, arrested in 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office, behavior loudly condemned by Western powers. The European Union foreign office said “justice was being applied selectively in Ukraine under political motivation,” while the Obama White House responded, “The charges against Mrs. Tymoshenko and the conduct of her trial … have raised serious concerns about the government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and rule of law.”
In 2014, Yanukovich’s efforts to steer Ukraine away from the West and back towards Russia sparked widespread protests, leading him to flee the country (his successor as president, Petro Poroshenko, continued the pattern of corruption). Moscow then invaded and annexed Crimea and supported irregular forces in the eastern Donbas region, eight years before its attempt to invade the rest of Ukraine — and that brings us up to the present.
Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to you? Contested elections thrown to the courts, allegations of vote rigging, mass street protests, and a political opponent imprisoned due to political, selective application of justice — these are symptoms of innate Ukrainian corruption, but they also appear in the U.S.
In fact, the Ukrainian people got so fed up with the endless corruption of their political class that in 2019 they elected as president a TV star with no political experience. (I could have sworn I’ve read this script somewhere before.)
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s fledgling, corrupt business world offered an enticing prospect to unscrupulous foreigners looking to make a quick buck (or rather millions of bucks). In 2014, Hunter Biden, who has no experience in energy business, joined the board of a Ukrainian oil company called Burisma and collected a monthly income of up to $50,000, nearly equal to the U.S. median annual salary.
At the time Biden joined Burisma’s board, his father, Vice President Joe, led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, and Burisma was under investigation for corruption. Soon after, then-Prosecutor General Victor Shokin, the official investigating Burisma was fired. Joe Biden boasted in 2018 that the Poroshenko administration fired Shokin because he threatened to withhold $1 billion in foreign aid unless they did so.
As Joe Biden told the story, “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in’ — I think it was, what, six hours? — I looked, and I said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor’s not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a —–, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid.”
Shokin was succeeded as Ukraine’s Prosecutor General by Yuriy Lutsenko, who had been convicted of embezzlement and abuse of office in 2012 and implicated in a poisoning attempt against Yushchenko. During his tenure as prosecutor general, he obstructed the investigation into Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman who failed to register as a foreign agent while working for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine and was later convicted on money laundering charges. It’s good to know the sort of character President Biden described as “solid.”
In an ironic twist, President Trump was impeached (the first time) for a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky he made as part of an effort to uncover evidence of the Biden family’s corrupt dealings in that country. The notion that a sitting president would use his official position to dig up evidence of crimes by his chief political rival seemed beyond the pale to a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives at the time. By contrast, no member of the Biden family has yet suffered any consequences for their corrupt dealings in Ukraine or any other foreign nation.
Corruption in American politics has ebbed and flowed throughout her 247-year-long history, and election tampering has too. Yet few observers would dispute that both are currently at a high tide. What other conclusion is there when, recent events in American politics mimic those of a fledgling democracy still struggling to wriggle free of Soviet-era corruption?
Fortunately, by construction and longstanding tradition, the U.S. legal system is stronger than that of Ukraine’s. There are still officials willing to stand up to defend equal justice before the law, due process, the peaceful transfer of power, and fundamental human rights. The public still, by and large, values and expects government officials to abide by these principles. So, it’s conceivable that a political prosecution that would succeed in Ukraine’s judicial system will fail — or even backfire — in the U.S. But no free and open system of government can withstand the constant abuse of those who wield power in it forever. Sooner or later, the abuse must cease, or freedom will.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.
TRUMP: “I'm being indicted because they are afraid of all of us because we have a movement that's never been seen in the history of our country — Make America Great Again.”
— ALX 🇺🇸 (@alx) August 6, 2023
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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