The US lower house, The House of Representatives, has a Democrat majority. It has decided to start impeachment against Donald Trump over allegations that he acted improperly by asking the Ukrainian President to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Joe Biden, President Obama’s vice-president, is seen as one of the front runners to challenge Mr Trump in next year’s presidential election.
The affair stems from a telephone call between Trump and the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, of which a transcript exists. Whilst vice-president, Joe Biden was instrumental in forcing the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor (Viktor Shokin) that US and other Western governments saw as corrupt. At the time, his son Hunter was working for an energy company, Burisma Holdings, which was one target of Shokin’s corruption investigations. The Obama administration was concerned that Shokin was not aggressive enough in his investigations of corruption (including against Burisma Holdings) and leveraged his dismissal. The most relevant section of the transcript follows:
Trump: The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you could do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.
There has been no evidence uncovered to suggest that Joe Biden took any action to benefit his son, or, indeed, of any impropriety by Hunter Biden.
The impeachment process is to focus on whether Mr Trump has sought to involve a foreign power in an investigation of his political rival and is therefore guilty of an abuse of power. The Democrats in Congress involved in the impeachment hearings are in the process of subpoenaing members of the Trump administration for documentary evidence.
The existence of another transcript between Trump and the Australian PM has also come to light in which Trump appears to ask the Australian PM for his help related to the Muller enquiry into potential Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Mr Trump had a reputation for being a ruthless operator in his business activities before becoming President and this affair could simply be a continuation of that style of action. However, what may be acceptable in business is not acceptable in political life, if you attempt to use the office of President against a political rival.