New York: US President Donald Trump has had a bad week of setbacks testing his resilience.
His Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that aid to Ukraine was held up to force a political investigation; several diplomats defied the administration to testify before Congressional investigators; and his decision to pull US troops out of Syria was criticised by his own party leaders.
The statements of Mulvaney and the diplomats gave the Democrats ammunition against Trump whom they have accused of pressuring a foreign government to interfere in US politics to help his re-election bid and using aid as a weapon to influence Ukraine and as a result, launched an impeachment inquiry.
Turkey’s invasion of Syria and its attacks on the Kurds, who had fought the Islamic State terrorist with US support, brought a House of Representatives resolution supported by many Republicans condemned the troop withdrawal.
It was also the week that he burned the tenuous bridge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi by seeming to question the strength of her opposition to terrorism.
A tone deaf Trump also announced that the next G7 Summit of leaders of major economic powers will be held next year at a resort he owns in Florida raising ethical and legal questions.
Trump has denounced the impeachment process as a witch hunt and on Thursday he told a supporters’ rally in Dallas: “They come after me, but what they’re really doing is they’re coming after the Republican Party, and what they’re really really doing is they’re coming after and fighting you.”
The impeachment, which will likely happen given the Democratic Party’s majority in the House of Representatives, is only the equivalent of framing a chargesheet for a prosecution.
But Trump being found guilty and removed from office is unlikely as of now because the Republican-controlled Senate will hold a trial based on the charges and vote on a verdict.
The Republican Party holds a slender majority of three in the 100-member Senate and Trump has to hold on to the lead.
There have been murmurs of dissent in his party after Mulvaney’s revelation before the media, although he later took it back.
A senator from his party, Lisa Murkowski said: “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative.”
But so far his base seems intact.
An estimated crowd of 30,000 supporters provided vocal support at his rally on Thursday night in Dallas.
His support in polls has slipped only marginally.
According to RealClear Politics (RCP), an authoritative aggregator of polls, the average for Trump’s job approval slid from 44.7 per cent on September 22 to 42.6 on Friday. In all the 10 polls it monitored, Trump’s disapproval rating was higher.
But impeachment is yet to get the support of the majority: RCP’s average showed 49 per cent of Americans were for it, while 45.1 per cent were against it and in three of the seven poll it tracked, those against impeachment outnumbered those for it.
The impeachment process began after an intelligence officer working in the White House reported that he had heard that Trump pressurise Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during a phone call on July 25 to investigate the dealings of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden with a Ukrainian gas company and made promises to him.
A reconstruction of the phone call provided by the White House did not show Trump pressuring Zelensky or making promises. The Ukrainian leader also denied that he was pressured.
Biden has denied that there was any wrongdoing or illegality in his son Hunter’s involvement with the company that made him a director with a monthly payment of $50,000, while as Vice President he was himself involved with Ukraine and made its leaders fire the chief prosecutor investigating the company.
In a related development, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who testified before the impeachment investigators, said that he had raised concerns about Hunter Biden’s business deals in Ukraine but his misgivings were brushed aside.
Mulvaney provided a smoking gun for the allegations that Trump used aid to pressure Ukraine when he told reporters that military aid was withheld to persuade Zelensky to investigate if the Democratic National Committee’s computers were hacked from that country and not Russia.
Secret emails of the Democratic Party leaders were released publicly by hackers, who the Democrats say were Russians bent on sowing dissent within the party, but some Republicans have claimed it was the Ukrainians who broke into the party’s computer system.
Mulvaney declared: “Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
But later he backed off from his assertion before the media saying there was no quid pro quo, that Trump hadn’t asked him to withhold the military aid and it was held back only because of concerns over corruption.
The defiance of the diplomats began on October 11, when former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified before House investigators that Trump had her removed from the post as she did not go along with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was trying to get Ukrainian leaders to conduct investigations into the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine.
This week, Kent told investigators that he was ordered to defer to political appointees on Ukraine matters.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s former adviser Michael McKinley told the investigators that ambassadors were being made to “advance domestic political objectives”.
Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that Giuliani tried “to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly” in Trump’s re-election bid.
Giuliani, who tried to get the Ukrainians to reopen the investigations into the company Hunter Biden was associated with, is facing problems of his own.
Four of his associates, at least two of whom reportedly helped his Ukrainian foray, have been arrested on charges of making illegal election contributions.
A common tactic of US prosecutors is to bring charges against associates of the person they are after and lure them into incriminating that person in exchange for leniency.