It’s just not true that three Senate Democrats improperly pressured Ukrainian officials to target members of “Team Trump.”
President Trump and media enablers have been pushing an utterly counterfactual allegation to that effect. They claim a 2018 letter to Ukrainian officials from Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey Democrats is equivalent to, or worse than, Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.
It wasn’t even in the same ballpark. The letter to Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko was legitimate, and wholly in line with the 1998 Treaty of Mutual Legal Assistance between Ukraine and the United States. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, on the contrary, was in no way consonant with that treaty.
The letter’s opening sentence makes clear what the Democrats wanted: “We are writing to express great concern about reports that your office has taken steps to impede cooperation with the investigation of United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”
They were not asking for Ukraine to open or reopen an investigation. They weren’t requesting that Ukraine target any American. They were asking for Ukraine to stop impeding an ongoing, official, duly appointed U.S. investigation. They referred to numerous news stories reporting that Ukraine was impeding Mueller’s probe. They asked whether the reports were true, and whether the Trump administration requested that Ukraine not cooperate. That’s it. Simple.
The 1998 treaty requires not only that each country not impede duly appointed investigations by the other, but that they actively assist such investigations. If Ukraine was, as reported, not only refusing to help, but actively hindering, an official investigation begun by order of the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department, senators were right to complain.
On the other hand, neither Trump nor his lawyer Rudy Giuliani came close to identifying an official U.S. investigation regarding the Bidens. Rather than asking for Ukraine’s assistance with an American probe for which evidence might exist in Ukraine, Trump and Giuliani were asking Ukraine to reopen its own, officially closed probe into U.S. citizens. Trump went even farther by offering the Justice Department’s assistance for Ukraine to target the Bidens.
In its essence, Trump’s message was: “We have nothing specific with which to charge these U.S. citizens, but we will gladly help you determine that they broke your laws, even though you never requested our aid on this and have already determined that your laws were not broken.”
That’s not how things are supposed to work. The treaty’s express purpose is to provide for the country whose laws were suspected of being broken to secure the assistance of the other country in finding facts. It is not to let one country pressure the other into how to apply the second nation’s laws.
The treaty is explicit: Ukraine should help the U.S. if the U.S. attorney general or his designee specifically identify “the authority conducting the investigation … the nature and subject matter of the investigation … a description of the purpose for which evidence, information, or other assistance is sought,” and specifically provide, “to the extent necessary and possible,” nine other procedural bits of information.
Trump and Giuliani have done none of this.
Also, since Giuliani by his own insistence was acting for Trump in a private, not governmental, capacity, his own requests run afoul of this treaty clause: “The provisions of this Treaty shall not give rise to a right on the part of any private person to obtain, suppress, or exclude any evidence, or to impede the execution of a request.”