By now nearly everyone in America has heard about the recent scandal surrounding the president and his interactions with Ukraine (not to mention the formal impeachment inquiry that this scandal has created). Typically, this website looks to discuss American foreign affairs, not domestic politics. But in this particular instance, both foreign and domestic policy have collided in very concerning ways. While some have dismissed the Ukraine issue as an innocent phone conversation, there are very serious problems to American national security that this conversation presents. Don’t just take our word for it, over 300 diplomatic and national security professionals agree. This week, we’ll cut through the spin and outright misinformation to explain how the Ukraine scandal is a national security problem.
What do we know so far? Based on a government whistleblower’s report, testimony corroborating the report from senior Intelligence Community officials, and the White House’s own admissions is that President Trump engaged in a phone conversation with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. You may remember Zelensky as the former Ukrainian actor whose satirical show about a teacher becoming president actually led to him becoming president. On this call, Trump directly pressured Zelensky to open up a criminal investigation into one of his top political opponents in the 2020 election, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. The president and his political allies have been pushing debunked conspiracy theories about Biden’s role with a Ukrainian gas company and the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike for months and were hoping an investigation would help it gain notoriety. Just days before this call, Trump withheld critical military aid from the United States to Ukraine to help in its ongoing war against Russia. We also know that the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, engaged in these efforts to help pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden. Even if nothing else is revealed in the ongoing impeachment investigation, the information that we already know (and has already been admitted by the administration) constituted a major national security risk to the United States.
How do these actions constitute a threat to American national security? In one word: blackmail. The very fact of the president’s request for an investigation into Biden would place Trump in a situation where Ukraine (or anyone who finds out about the request) could then threaten to release this information if Trump does not make policy concessions. Even if nothing ever came of the request to Ukraine, the request is bad enough because it compromised the president. This was the entire reason the Russia investigation was so important in the search to determine if there was “collusion” (which has already been admitted to regarding Ukraine). Ukraine knew about the request and this directly opened the president up to blackmail about it. We know the president was worried about this type of kompromat because he immediately placed the call transcript on an ultra-secure server which is intended to hold only the most classified of American intelligence secrets (not embarrassing political dirt). In addition, the fact of this call (and recent revelations of other similar requests to foreign powers) shows that the president is eager to sell American foreign and national security policy to whoever can benefit him personally.
Another problem is that Guiliani was essentially conducting American foreign policy outside of the traditional government channels. Because of this, there was no method for the Intelligence Community to identify any of the information divulged by Guiliani or protect the sources and methods of this information. Diplomatic and intelligence operations are often supposed to be hidden from the public, but should never be hidden from the entire government itself. When this type of unknown back-channel is occurring, the United States government is completely unable to coordinate other departments or agencies in support of these efforts. This leaves the entire process open to legal challenges, tensions with critical allies, and hostile counter-intelligence operations.
But even without the threat to national security, the actions already uncovered constitute a profound moral problem for this country. The integrity of our elections strikes at the very foundation of democracy. One of the most important aspects of this is that our elections are our own business. No other nation, whether an ally like Canada, or an adversary like Russia, should engage in efforts to manipulate the American public into supporting one candidate over another. It is especially disturbing when one of the candidates for this office is directly requesting, assisting, or extorting another nation in efforts to influence our elections. The investigation request by the president is bad enough, but withholding critical military aid to defend against a common adversary (Russia) directly harms our national security. This action is corruption on its face. This act was not done in service to the everyday American citizen, it was done in service to the president’s personal political interests.
This cuts across all party lines and political affiliations. This conduct is unacceptable for any person in the United States government to engage in and should be treated as such. This issue is about nothing short of the preservation of our founding democratic ideals and the protection of this nation from foreign influence. After all, how can the American people determine the foreign policy of their nation when it is being offered up for the personal political interests of one person?