Bribery is a real crime. It is even mentioned in the Constitution as a basis for impeachment, Francis Menton reminds readers in the Manhattan Contrarian. But in trying to fit the square peg of the Trump/Ukraine fact pattern into the round hole of the impeachable crime bribery, Mr. Menton sees two major problems.
- If providing to a politician some intangible political advantage can be characterized as a “bribe,” then most of what politicians do all day would become “bribery.”
- Calling President Trump’s conduct as to Ukraine “bribery” invites comparison with the conduct of Joe and Hunter Biden in the same country, and calls for testing the conduct of each against the words of the applicable statute to see which is the better fit.
Francis Menton outlined in a previous post that “it’s only a ‘crime’ if you can fit within the exact words of some criminal statute passed by Congress,” which in this case (the crime of bribery of a federal official), the main statute is 18 U.S.C. Section 201(b).
Here are the words of the relevant portion:
(b) Whoever . . . (2) being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: (A) being influenced in the performance of any official act . . . shall be fined under this title . . . or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both.
In trying to apply the words of the bribery statute to the conduct of President Trump and of Joe and Hunter Biden relating to Ukraine, the Manhattan Contrarian offers an excerpt from Joe Biden’s 9 December 2015 speech to the Ukrainian Rada (parliament), during that same trip where he demanded the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin fired. (The full text is at this link.)
It’s not enough to set up a new anti-corruption bureau and establish a special prosecutor fighting corruption. The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform. The judiciary should be overhauled. The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles — not sweetheart deals. It’s not enough to push through laws to increase transparency with regard to official sources of income. Senior elected officials have to remove all conflicts between their business interest and their government responsibilities. Every other democracy in the world — that system pertains.
Continues Francis Menton: “You really have to wonder how the members of the Rada were reacting to this as they were hearing it.”
Here was Joe Biden, the person in charge of U.S. diplomatic efforts in Ukraine, standing in front of them playing holier-than-thou, and claiming some moral high ground to lecture them on ethics and corruption, and telling them that they must “remove all conflicts between their business interest and their government responsibilities.” And yet every one of the listeners knew full well that at that same time Joe Biden had his son Hunter holding (since May 2014) a $1 million-per-year, 2 day-per-year job as board member of a principal suspect of Ukrainian corruption, the gas company Burisma.
Were the members of the Rada struggling to suppress laughter? Definitely. But in addition, it could only have looked to them like what they had seen so many times before in their home country, namely that the very same high official demanding that they end corruption as to themselves was in fact the most corrupt of all; and thus, as a result of Hunter’s position, the speech could only have conveyed the message of an implicit blessing to continue business as usual.
Much more from the Manhattan Contrarian here.