• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

I have a theory about political scandals. I believe that the degree to which a scandal “sticks” is inversely proportional to its complexity. For instance, if someone were to ask you what the Whitewater scandal was about, could you tell them? You might vaguely know it had something to do with real estate, and there was some guy involved who committed suicide, but seriously – does anyone really know what Whitewater was about? By contrast, I’m willing to bet there are even some Gen Z folks who could explain the basic plot of the Monica Lewinsky scandal – sex in the oval office. That’s a story that makes sense to everyone.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that, like the rest of America and the world, I’m watching the tragic and horrific scenes of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine unfolding on the news. For many people, Americans especially, this is the first time they’ve really considered Ukraine’s vulnerability as a nation, vis a vis its autocratic neighbor. But what most people don’t realize is that one thread leading up to these events on the other side of the world happened right here at home. Given the current attention on the political situation in Ukraine, now might be a good time to revisit the conduct that led to Trump’s first impeachment, which has a direct through line to what we are witnessing today.

Impeachment 1.0 focused on the domestic aspect of Trump’s “quid pro quo” with Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. On July 25, 2019, Trump spoke with Zelensky, uttering the famous words encapsulating his “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian leader: “I’d like you to do me a favor, though.” The favor Trump was asking for was twofold: He wanted Zelensky to announce an investigation into his political rival, Joe Biden, for encouraging Ukraine, while Vice President, to fire a corrupt prosecutor Trump claimed was investigating Biden’s son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas firm called Burisma. Trump also wanted Zelensky to investigate a conspiracy theory originally promulgated by his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and later by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. Coverage of Trump’s call, and political debate in the U.S., largely focused on the veracity of these two claims and the larger issue of Trump actively soliciting foreign interference in a U.S. presidential election.