On Wednesday, the World Trade Organization will be effectively rendered useless at the will of Donald Trump. With the United States having profited from the WTO more than most, his attacks make little sense.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro learned the hard way Monday what many other leaders have discovered before him: a good personal relationship with US President Donald Trump has its limits.Bolsonaro and his country’s diplomats in Washington were blindsided after Trump issued a pair of early morning tweets announcing punishing tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Brazil and Argentina, another country with which Trump had previously enjoyed good relations.It’s the kind of political…
It’s an exclusive club that members of the House Judiciary Committee are joining today: The United States has undergone impeachment just three other times in its history, and only a handful of people each time have been charged with compiling a list of the president’s impeachable offenses.
James Rogan knows what that’s like.
Rogan, now a superior-court judge in California, was a 41-year-old member of the Judiciary Committee during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He was present for all the late nights and early mornings the committee spent reviewing Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s 453-page report in the fall of 1998 detailing the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. And he worked alongside other members of a dedicated team, which included now-Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to help narrow down Starr’s list of 11 possible impeachable offenses to just four. Later on, Rogan served as one of the 13 House managers during Clinton’s trial in the Senate—the representatives tasked with presenting the Republican majority’s case.
While Rogan was a leader on impeachment, he was also a casualty of the process. Democrats spent a record sum to unseat him in 2000, and he lost his reelection bid by nine points. The man who defeated him was none other than Adam Schiff, the current Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who has shepherded the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
“Here I am, 21 years later, and people still come up to me all the time and say, ‘Well, knowing what you know now, would you do it again?’” Rogan told me in an interview. “[I knew] this [was] going to cost me everything professionally—and it did. But I knew that going into it, and so I’ve never had any regrets.”
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee now find themselves in the same position as Rogan was more than two decades ago: deciding on and drafting articles of impeachment against a sitting president. The committee kicked off its first public hearing with expert witnesses this morning, and it will spend the next several days compiling a list of allegations that members will argue necessitate Trump’s removal from office. The offenses that end up on that list will help determine the success of the impeachment effort, and they will appear beside Trump’s name in history books for generations to come—phrases like abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
I called Rogan this week to understand what it’s like to take on such a project. We discussed House Republicans’ late-night Chinese-food runs in 1998, the demands of being on Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde’s “Fact Team,” and how it felt to participate in a process that changed the course of American politics. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Elaine Godfrey: In December 1998, you and your Republican colleagues were at roughly the same point in your impeachment inquiry as the Democrats are now. What was it like, being so involved in that process?
James Rogan: We were in a late-night session of the Judiciary Committee [on December 1, 1998], as I recall, [when Chief Investigative Counsel] Dave Schippers handed me a plain manila envelope and said, “Look at this when you get a chance, but don’t show it to anybody.” And I threw it in my briefcase, and didn’t think much of it, because there was all this paperwork going back and forth between members of Congress. I remember getting home late that night, and I was going through all the stuff in my briefcase, and I pulled out this envelope and opened the top, and my eyes popped out of my head. It was a several-page document captioned: “Draft Articles of Impeachment Against the President of the United States.”
There I was, sitting at my kitchen table going over it, line by line, making suggestions, amendments, comments, changes. I faxed it back to Dave Schippers and, ironically, that document with all of my handwritten notes was on display at the Smithsonian from 2000 to 2018.
Godfrey: Did you meet as a whole committee about the articles?
Rogan: I had innumerable meetings with Chairman Hyde during that period, sometimes by myself. I had been a former prosecutor and a former judge, and so he called me a lot. I would go in and meet with him with other members of the committee. And those tended to be the people that he assigned a leadership role to bring the articles forward in the House and to handle the debate in the House. He called it the “Fact Team”: Bill McCollum from Florida, Asa Hutchinson [from Arkansas], Ed Bryant from Tennessee. By the time we got to the Senate [trial], the lead guys were [me, Hutchinson, Bryant] and then Lindsey.
Godfrey: What were those meetings like?
Rogan: I used to bring my camera into some of these behind-the-scenes meetings, and some [photos] are actually in my book. I’m looking at one here where Bill Jenkins [of Tennessee] is sitting next to Lindsey Graham, back in our majority conference room. Bill is reading Roll Call and Lindsey’s watching TV. There are pictures of us all working around the table, and you can see cups of coffee, and people with boxes and documents.
Pizzas were ordered sometimes, and sometimes we’d go out. Sometimes, if we were working, and it was 11 or 12 o’clock at night, we’d go find some late-night Chinese restaurant that was open nearby. You’d have all these people sitting around some fast-food place discussing articles of impeachment in a corner booth.
Godfrey: How much of a factor was public opinion in those discussions?
Rogan: I was paying attention to it closely. Of the 13 House managers that prosecuted President Clinton’s case and of all the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, I was the only one representing not just a Democratic district, but a heavily Democratic district where Bill Clinton won both times by large majorities.
Just before the vote [on articles of impeachment], Newt Gingrich pulled me out of the committee hearing. And he had a poll in his pocket. He pulled it out, and he said, “Have you seen the poll? [It shows that if] you vote to impeach Bill Clinton, 75 percent of high-propensity voters will never vote for you again.” That included quite a number of high-propensity Republican voters. So impeachment in my district was a shortcut to the unemployment line.
But it wasn’t dispositive to me, because that wasn’t my training. I had been a gang-murder prosecutor in the Los Angeles County DA’s office. I had been a state-court judge in California. People with that kind of background aren’t hardwired to read polls before they go into court and try cases or render judgments on cases. I figured it would probably cost me my reelection, but that’s what I get paid to do.
Godfrey: Were you watching or reading anything that was helpful to your decision making in this process?
Rogan: There was so much briefing material coming our way that there really was no time for leisurely reading. We were so busy, particularly those of us who were on the Fact Team. Our instructions from Chairman Hyde were very specific. He told us, “You four guys need to know every jot and tittle of that 400-page Starr report. You need to know where all the exhibits are—you need to know what’s in every document—so that no matter what anybody says during debate, if they get up and say something that isn’t true or isn’t documented, I need one of you guys to be able to get up and rebut that right now.”
It was like studying for the bar exam.
Godfrey: What were the tension points among Republicans on the committee? Did you get into any arguments about the articles?
Rogan: I don’t remember any arguments. It was tense in the sense that we knew that this was very historic and was going to have significant political and constitutional repercussions. But there was never anybody shouting or anybody pointing fingers.
There were political discussions. I had a lot of individual [Republican] members coming up to me saying things like, “You know, I’m kind of in a marginal district. Throw some articles in there that I can vote against, because I want to be able to say I didn’t vote for all of them, that I voted against some of the articles.”
I had a lot of Republicans come up to me and say, “Which are the two that you need?” I would tell them, “If you’re only going to vote for two, vote for perjury and obstruction of justice.”
In fact, that’s exactly what happened. We had four articles of impeachment in the committee, and the House only passed two articles.
Godfrey: Democrats are currently trying to decide if they should stick to Ukraine in the impeachment articles, or include other alleged Trump offenses like violations of the emoluments clause. Were you thinking back then about folding in allegations that weren’t related to the Starr report?
Rogan: I not only was thinking about it; I was advocating for it. I did not believe we should limit ourselves to the Starr report. In fact, I had very limited interest in the whole Lewinsky saga. Of course I knew that the president had committed perjury and obstructed justice to try to beat Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him, and I thought that should be included. But I thought that there were also bigger fish to fry. Clinton had various scandals unrelated to the Starr report, and I felt we should do what the House Judiciary Committee did in 1973 and 1974: Open up hearings, give the president an opportunity to rebut the charges, bring in evidence, let his lawyers cross-examine the witnesses. But that was vetoed.
Rogan: Remember that the midterm elections happened in early November 1998. Speaker Gingrich had been predicting that we were going to pick up 20 or 30 seats. But not only did we not pick up 20 or 30 seats; we lost seats, and we came within a whisker of losing our majority. So there was a beaten-down sense among Republicans that this is a political loser. There was a major sense of making this thing just go away as quickly as possible.
Godfrey: What was the experience like personally for you?
Rogan: It was physically exhausting, for a number of reasons, aside from the political beating I was taking back home every day. I was just getting my teeth kicked out on a daily basis for two straight years. If you were to come into my chambers today, hanging over the door is my favorite piece of political memorabilia. It’s in a great big frame—a huge handmade sign that says People unite, denounce Rogan. It was from one of three burn-me-in-effigy rallies held one weekend.
When we moved over to the Senate, we were going on two and three hours of sleep a night for six weeks. I was very beaten down.
Godfrey: How would you describe your attitude throughout the process?
Rogan: I’m going to answer your question and then I’m going to regret answering it truthfully, because when you report it, even if I try to explain it, it’s going to come across the wrong way. I had the time of my life. And it’s because I’m a history buff. Putting aside all of the pain and everything else, for anybody who’s a real trial lawyer, as I was, when you try a case where the president of the United States is your defendant; the United States Senate is your jury; the chief justice of the United States is your trial judge; every word spoken is on live, worldwide television; and you know that, every time you open your mouth, if you say something stupid, your great-grandkids will get to watch it on the History Channel, the stakes don’t get any higher. It was the ultimate trial.
Henry Hyde was always yelling at me, because I’d go on TV shows like Meet the Press with Tim Russert and I always had a smile on my face. I was not somber. He was constantly telling me, “Stop smiling,” and I told him, “Look, Henry, now I understand why the Christians, when they got thrown to the lions, they sang before the lions ate ’em. You know you’re going to get eaten by the lions anyway. Hell, you might as well sing. Since I know I’m going to get my ass kicked anyway, I might as well just smile.”
Here are the stories you shouldn't miss today: TOP STORIES Articles of Impeachment Looming Only four months ago, the debate over whether to impeach President Trump deeply divided Democrats in Congress, pitting moderates in pro-Trump districts against progressives in liberal strongholds.
Democrats in the United States House of Representatives unveiled two formal charges against Donald Trump on Tuesday, moving quickly toward a momentous vote on whether to impeach the Republican president.Democrats accuse Trump of abusing the power of his office by withholding aid to Ukraine, a vulnerable US ally facing Russian aggression, as well as dangling a possible White House meeting to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a probe of Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival…
There has been much focus on the pitfalls of the US-China trade war, yet the threat of increasing trade tensions between the US and Europe could be a bigger potential worry for global markets.Forget US President Donald Trump’s headline-grabbing threat to slap 100 per cent tariffs on champagne, cheese and French luxury handbags in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which is expected to affect US tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.If the US and Europe go head to…
President Donald Trump met with the Russian foreign minister at the White House just hours after House Democrats announced articles of impeachment against him for his dealings with Ukraine, which is fighting against Russian aggression
The US Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has announced the House will proceed with articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. 'The president leaves us no choice but to act,' she said. 'Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment.'
A U.S. Senate committee backed legislation on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Turkey after its offensive in northern Syria and plans to buy a Russian S-400 missile system, the latest move in the chamber to push Republican President Donald Trump to take a harder line against Ankara.
It’s Friday, December 6.In today’s newsletter: An old Democratic kingmaker might return to the scene. Plus, can the pro-abortion-rights umbrella expand again?
« TODAY IN POLITICS »
(ERIN SCOTT / REUTERS)
How Nancy Pelosi hopes this ends
When the House speaker asked committee chairs to begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, her tone seemed to communicate how reluctant she remains about the way the inquiry is playing out.
“How much drama can the American people handle?” she asked. “Where does the law of diminishing returns set in? Where is the value added not worth the time?”
There’s a reason the Baltimore native frequently quotes Thomas Paine’s “the times have found us” essay, my colleague Todd Purdum writes. Despite everything, she seems to truly believe in her duty to hold the president accountable:
In less fraught circumstances, a phrase like The president leaves us no choice might be a mere political talking point. In this case, it seems that, by Pelosi’s lights, it’s the cold truth.
Whether they mean to or not, these young women are introducing a purity test where there shouldn’t be one: within the community of pro-abortion-rights voters. In this new calculus, true believers are welcome; anyone else can find the door.
(GREGORY REED / RAFAPRESS / SHUTTERSTOCK / THE ATLANTIC)
What exactly did Pete Buttigieg during his time with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company?
Just break the NDA, Mayor Pete, Derek Thompson argues:
Buttigieg not only has an obligation to come clean about his corporate experience. Unless the work he did at McKinsey is utterly vile, it would be strategically wise to break his nondisclosure agreement and dare McKinsey to censure its most public alumnus.
What’s the worst that could happen? McKinsey’s PR team could release a statement expressing deep disappointment, or declare that it is considering legal action, or even announce immediately that it is suing for a nondisclosure violation. Buttigieg should welcome the showdown.
Since retiring in 2017, the former Senate Majority Leader has kept a low-profile, enduring pancreatic cancer.
That hasn’t stopped his party’s 2020 hopefuls from seeking out his advice and favor. Edward-Isaac Dovere caught up with 80-year-old Reid, who could lead back-room machinations should no Democrat emerge as the party’s clear nominee.
Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have both stopped by for meetings and checked in via phone. Pete Buttigieg made a special pilgrimage to see him. Bernie Sanders welcomed Reid to his hospital room after his recent heart attack. Before Mike Bloomberg started filing the paperwork to enter the primaries, he didn’t alert many Democratic Party figures—but he did call Reid.
US President Donald Trump is under pressure from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resist the temptation to wade into the British election campaign during his London visit for the Nato summit.As a presidential candidate in 2016 and then as president since early 2017, Trump has shown no restraint in showing support for Britain’s exit from the European Union and critiquing the politicians involved in the country’s long-running Brexit debate.But with Johnson leading polls as he faces…
For almost all of the current Democratic presidential candidates, Kamala Harris would, on paper, be a plausible—and in some cases, the ideal—running mate. She’s a charismatic, relatively young senator who has demonstrated her skill at taking on Donald Trump’s administration; she now has experience in nationally televised debates; and as a woman of color, she’s an obvious demographic ticket-balancer in a party that still doesn’t have many prominent nonwhite national leaders. One reason she ended her own presidential campaign last week, according to people close to her whom I spoke with, was so that she could get out before any further humiliation tarnished her future appeal.
But the way her candidacy ended—with leaking, backbiting, and blame-slinging by her staff—demonstrated such dysfunction that the chatter over the past week among both rival campaigns and some of her own supporters has been about whether the senator from California has made herself too radioactive for another candidate to bring her on board as a running mate.
“A primary goal is to have a VP nominee who complements and bolsters the ticket. One would think the chances of Senator Harris being on the ticket have gone down with her having a team so comfortable with leaking negative information,” an aide to another candidate told me.
Harris aides weren’t just worse than those from other campaigns in fighting with one another in public—they were much, much worse. Harris’s sister and top adviser, Maya Harris, was known to be fighting with the campaign manager. The campaign manager was known to be fighting with other aides. The aides were known to be fighting with the outside consultants. Things got so bad, staffers joked that even the security guard knew how deeply their problems ran—which the security guard could easily have learned simply by reading the internet. (Even before Kamala Harris dropped out, rivals, along with people inside the campaign, were aghast at what they were seeing, especially when The New York Times found 50 people from the campaign to dish on one another.) Aides I talked with would tell me how terrible the dynamic was in one breath and then slam someone else on the team in the next. It was as if they were dousing themselves in gasoline and wondering how they kept catching fire.
Along the way, Harris left the impression that she was either unaware of what was happening or unable to stop it.
“When a campaign ends, there is always time for reflection, but dragging each other through the mud doesn’t help,” an aide to a different candidate told me. “Staff trashing each other just looks like you can’t manage your own staff.”
Many top aides on other campaigns told me that they would be leery of working with staffers so willing to sell out one another. “It’s clear to a casual observer that her campaign didn’t do her any favors, and there are certain elements that would need to be gotten under control,” a person who regularly speaks with Joe Biden told me.
Still, Harris could bring a lot to a candidate like Biden, whose candidacy would derive obvious ticket-balancing benefits from her. Indeed, that same Biden confidant said that her staff melodrama “shouldn’t take away from what a strong, talented candidate she was.”
The advantages Harris could bring to a Democratic ticket might overwhelm the concerns about her organization’s dysfunction— particularly if the nominee is Biden, Pete Buttigieg, or Michael Bloomberg. Though she went after both Biden and Buttigieg at times during her campaign, she might gamble that endorsing whichever of them seems more viable before the California primary on Super Tuesday (March 3) could enhance her odds of becoming the running mate. She seems less likely to endorse Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, whose politics she disagrees with.
An additional factor to consider for anyone contemplating making Harris their running mate is that she’s young enough and ambitious enough to think about running for president again—meaning that she might not always be trusted to subordinate her own political agenda to the president’s, if elected. This was the dynamic that existed between Bill Clinton and Al Gore: The West Wing was always suspicious that the vice president was acting primarily in his own long-term political interests, rather than in the president’s. Hillary Clinton sought to avoid this problem in 2016 by selecting as her running mate Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, whom she believed she could count on to be a team player.
Back in 2008, Barack Obama figured that he could dodge this problem by picking Biden as his running mate, since the thinking then, ironically, was that the senator from Delaware was old enough to be done running for president, and so would be fully committed to the Obama agenda. (He mostly was—a rare exception being when Biden went on TV to endorse gay marriage in the spring of 2012, enraging Obama staffers who had carefully prepared a plan for the president to lead the way on that issue in the fall.) In 2008, Obama aides had less concern about Biden’s ambitions than about those of his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton; partly to address this worry, they created a list of aides whom Clinton could not bring with her to the State Department, for fear they wouldn’t be team players. (She successfully fought to get at least one aide off the blacklist.)
Many campaign strategists I spoke with said that getting comfortable with Harris as a running mate might just be a matter of the nominee having a couple of tough conversations with Harris about changing her behavior, and getting her to agree not to bring certain staffers along with her. Given what Harris could potentially bring to the fight against Trump in the fall, these strategists said, the risk might be worth it. Harris’s supporters certainly believe this. And so do Biden people I spoke with, even though the two candidates have had some rough exchanges during the campaign.
For her part, Harris’s communications director, Lily Adams, dismisses speculation about the senator’s vice-presidential prospects as meaningless chatter. “Senator Harris is fully focused on the tasks in front of her representing the people of California in the Senate and during an expected Senate impeachment trial, and doing everything she can to help defeat Donald Trump in November,” Adams told me. “She’s not interested in D.C. cocktail-party prognosticating about any potential ticket.”
Except that what Harris may need to worry about next is not cocktail parties, but vetting committees.
Tariffs are the key weapon of US President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, and thus they are also the key to eventually unlocking the intractable problems of the marathon US-China trade negotiation. Any good deal should include the removal of punitive tariffs.But the latest inhospitable rhetoric over when and how much of these duties should be removed suggests the issue has become the main point of disagreement preventing Washington and Beijing from finalising their “phase one” deal on…
Clashes sparked by suspected drug cartel gunmen in a northern Mexican town killed 20 people this weekend, authorities said, putting more pressure on Mexico’s president to curb gang violence after the United States vowed to label the gangs terrorists.President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, mindful of efforts by US President Donald Trump to designate Mexican drug gangs as terrorist groups, repeated on Sunday that he would not accept any intervention from abroad, while doubling down on his strategy…
Too much or too little? Democrats in the US House of Representatives are drafting two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. Less is more, they say, in the hopes of a swift vote that would send charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress to a trial and a vote by the Republican-controlled Senate before the first presidential primaries in January.
Two separate U.S. Department of Justice reviews are likely to reach opposite conclusions about whether the FBI investigation of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign had sufficient cause to look into any ties with Russia, an official watchdog told Congress on Wednesday.
Walk down a barely marked stairway into a basement in New York’s East Village on a Sunday morning, and you may find yourself ina hub of Ukrainian American life. Members of the vast Ukrainian diaspora regularly gather here, at a church-run restaurant called Streecha, trading the latest on Ukrainian politics over plates of pierogi and bowls of borscht. As formal impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump were finally getting under way recently, several of the patrons here told me that America had lately been feeling more like home—and not in a good way.
The allegations involved in the impeachment inquiry embody a central tension of the Trump administration. Diplomats and officials as prominent as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have attempted to revive Ronald Reagan–style rhetoric about America’s role as the world’s foremost defender of liberty and freedom, including signaling support for Ukrainian self-determination. Meanwhile, the president and his associates appear to be more invested in courting power and personal gain, from Trump’s cozy press conferences with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his attempt to get the Ukrainian government to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden.
The Ukrainians I met here weren’t surprised by this Trumpian mode of politics, in part because it’s very similar to the status quo in the part of the world they come from. The impeachment inquiry is a test not just of Trump’s character, but of the country’s: Is a pitch for America’s exceptionalism still plausible, or is corruption the only true universal principle any government will ever embrace?
“I used to think that American politicians and politics is much more nice than Ukrainian,” Natalie, a short, chatty woman who gave her age as “in her 30s or 40s,” told me. “Come on. It’s even worse.” The little basement room where we stood could very well have been located in a different country: Almost no one appeared to be a tourist, and its light-pink-and-white walls were lined with portraits of golden-haloed saints and framed embroidered flowers. The United States government is just as corrupt as Ukraine’s, Natalie said, comparing political leaders here to squabbling seventh graders. This realization has been disappointing, she said, because she is an American by choice: She came to the U.S. a little less than a decade ago, after feeling pushed out of Ukraine by instability and lack of opportunity.
At least in the context of American politics, Ukraine has become something like the Forrest Gump of European nations over the past few years, popping up everywhere. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of a corrupt Ukrainian gas company, with no prior experience in Ukraine or the gas industry. The former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was arrested and imprisoned for his work on behalf of a Russia-aligned Ukrainian oligarch. The president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his business associates have come under fire for trying to coordinate a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. And Trump, of course, is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry focused on his apparent attempt to pressure Ukrianian President Volodymyr Zelensky into a similar investigation.
As this unlikely series of events has unfolded, Trump and his allies have taken to casually demonizing Ukraine as suspicious and untrustworthy, calling back to Cold War–era stereotypes of Soviet spies and no-goodniks. Leaders ranging from Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana to the president himself have promoted the false claim that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Kennedy later walked back his statement.)
I wanted to know how all of this looks and sounds to Ukrainians in America. Until recently, they were just one of many diaspora groups in the U.S. Now their native country is at the center of the country’s biggest news story. But the Trump administration’s signals to the Ukrainian American community have not always been clear: Sometimes officials seem to be pushing for Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and self-determination, while at other times they have seemed indifferent to the country’s fate.
Take the example of recent realignments within the Orthodox Church. The Church is one of the major religious and institutional players in Ukraine. For centuries, it operated under the authority of the patriarchate of Moscow—one of many ways Russia has asserted control in Ukraine. But in 2018, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine declared its autonomy, an effort led in part by Ukrainian priests in America. The move was a clear repudiation of Russian influence in Ukraine—and it won the close attention and praise of Pompeo, who released a statement in January celebrating Ukrainian Orthodox independence as “a historic achievement as Ukraine seeks to chart its own future.” His message appeared to include subtle pushback against Russia, praising “the freedom for members of religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs, without external interference.” In late October, as news about Trump’s actions in relation to Ukraine broke, Pompeo met with the leader of the newly independent Church. The State Department said that the two “shared their concerns about abuses against religious freedom” in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. Pompeo’s support for the Ukrainian Church gives the appearance “that America is a global defender of democracy and freedom and religious rights and self-determination,” says Nicholas Denysenko, a professor at Valparaiso University, in Indiana, who studies Orthodox Christianity. “America is trying to resume the role it once exercised during the Cold War period as this global defender of religious rights.”
As all of this was happening, however, Trump was promoting a very different vision of American values and power. The portrait of his behavior that has emerged in news reports and congressional testimony is one of using his office for personal gain: He sought to leverage military aid to a vulnerable ally in order to damage a major political opponent. This move had real consequences for Ukraine, where millions of people are currently living under Russian occupation in the eastern part of the country and soldiers fighting Russian troops are underarmed and strapped for resources. The message of his actions was clear, said Natalie, the woman I met at Streecha: “Trump has no idea where is Ukraine, what is Ukraine, and what’s going on in Ukraine.”
The people I spoke with said Trump’s actions have been disappointing, but they also follow a familiar playbook. “I was not surprised, because I come from Ukraine, and it’s a corruptive system,” said Nataliya Dudko, a 42-year-old who came to America in 2006. “It’s everywhere, even here [in America]. Now it’s more open.” Taras Kushsz, a 49-year-old recent immigrant, told me through a translator that he doesn’t believe anything written in the American press—most of the information that makes its way to the U.S. is twisted to make Ukrainians look “ignorant or dumb.” Iwan Kinal, a 35-year-old who grew up in New Jersey and wore a furry black Cossack hat as we stood outside St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in the cold, told me he’s a lifelong Republican and even likes some of Trump’s policies. But he’s been disturbed to hear the president echo what he described as Russian propaganda about Crimea, Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. “I’m disappointed in his treatment and his opinion of Ukraine from the start,” Kinal said of Trump.
Ukrainians in North America are a fairly diverse group. They might be first-generation immigrants or have parents and grandparents who were born in America. Their families might have been prewar Jewish refugees or devout parishioners of Catholic or Orthodox churches. And they’re all over the political spectrum, from lefty Millennials in Chicago to blue-collar Trump supporters in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. “Despite Trump’s obvious … disdain for Ukraine, and willingness to use Ukraine as a tool for his objectives,” says Denysenko, the Valparaiso professor, he still has “a chorus of supporters among the Ukrainian community,” in part becauseChristian Ukrainians tend to be more socially conservative. Like virtually all immigrant communities, Ukrainians in America have absorbed the best and the worst parts of being American. Several of the people I spoke with were enamored with America’s lofty values of liberty and freedom. But they also said arguments on Facebook and WhatsApp about Trump and impeachment have become vicious in recent weeks. People of Ukrainian background, it turns out, are just as partisan and divided as the rest of America.
The one thing that unites Ukrainians, said Andrij Dobriansky, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, is their intense support for Ukraine. “My wife says that I’m married to Ukraine, and she’s my mistress,” he told me over coffee at Streecha. Earlier that day, during a Mass at St. George, a soldier who had been injured on the Ukrainian front line got a standing ovation. Fighters regularly visit the local community, Dobriansky said, to talk about what they’ve seen.
In a sense, Dobriansky said, the impeachment proceedings have been a huge boon for the Ukrainian cause: They’ve brought attention to a conflict that usually garners little interest in America. “Bill Taylor and George Kent talking about the war in Ukraine on all networks—phenomenal,” he said, referring to the two diplomats who testified on the first day of public hearings last month. “We couldn’t gather enough money in our community to pay all the networks to put on an hour-long special about how important Ukraine is.” Ukrainians abroad see this kind of information campaign as crucial, because “there’s this notion that Russia excels at the weaponization of information,” Denysenko told me. “Ukrainians, in migration, try very hard to coordinate their efforts to respond to Russian disinformation.”
As the impeachment inquiry and other investigations have revealed, Russian propaganda has in fact infiltrated American political discourse, sometimes at the very highest levels of government. Fiona Hill, who served for two years on Trump’s National Security Council, said during November’s impeachment hearings that members of the House Intelligence Committee itself were perpetrating “a fictional narrative” created by Russian security services that Russia did not, in fact, interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and that Ukraine may have done so instead. The truth has become subservient to political expediency, and the American government has become a little more similar to any other strongman regime.
Just as Ukraine has long been a football in Russia’s regional schemes, it has now become a Rorschach test in America’s partisan feuds, consequences be damned. “Ukrainian people have been dying for five years in that territory, and they still do,” said Natalie, referring to the Donbas region, where Ukraine is attempting to fight off a Russian incursion. But in America, all that seems to matter are politicians’ personal fortunes and the next domestic elections,reminiscent of so many strongman regimes. As people die in her home country, Natalie said, all of this “is just a game, unfortunately.”
Minutes after House Democrats announced articles of impeachment on President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Rep. Frederica Wilson entered a meeting room in Washington and asked a group of Haitian activists … Click to Continue »
As the U.S. House of Representatives moves closer to impeaching Donald Trump, larger questions loom in the Senate, where the president may be headed for a rare conflict with his Republican allies over how any trial will be conducted.