Trump was com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion in Ukraine? Don’t make me laugh.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Steve Chap­man Steve Chap­man, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Ed­i­to­rial Board, blogs at www.chicagotri­bune.com/chap­man. schap­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @SteveChap­man13

The House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is called that for good rea­son: It over­sees in­tel­li­gence mat­ters. But Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­fend­ers on the com­mit­tee think it’s their job to in­sult our in­tel­li­gence.

One of their more novel de­fenses of how Trump dealt with Ukraine is that he was im­pla­ca­bly de­ter­mined to root out cor­rup­tion in that coun­try. For sheer gall, that claim is hard to beat. It’s as though Bill Clin­ton had re­but­ted al­le­ga­tions of an af­fair with Monica Lewin­sky by claim­ing to be a vir­gin.

It’s not just that Trump is per­son­ally cor­rupt, as he had to ad­mit re­cently in settling a law­suit that re­quired him to shut down his foun­da­tion and pay a fine of $2 mil­lion. Last year, he also had to pay $25 mil­lion to set­tle law­suits by stu­dents who said they were de­frauded by Trump Univer­sity.

His for­mer lawyer Michael Co­hen is in prison for pro­vid­ing hush money to adult film ac­tress Stormy Daniels and for­mer Play­boy model Karen McDou­gal, which he tes­ti­fied was at the di­rec­tion of Trump.

Tony Schwartz, who ghost­wrote “The Art of the Deal,” tweeted Thurs­day: “Don­ald Trump doesn’t clean up cor­rup­tion any­where. He lives and breathes it ev­ery day, in ev­ery way.”

It’s also worth not­ing that Trump has never shown the faintest con­cern about cor­rup­tion in any other coun­try. Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, said Trump with­held aid be­cause wanted to make sure that Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy met Trump’s de­mand­ing eth­i­cal stan­dards. When Trump’s con­cerns were as­suaged, he lifted the hold.

In fact, as for­mer Am­bas­sador Marie Yo­vanovitch tes­ti­fied Fri­day, com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion was a high pri­or­ity for her in Kyiv. When Trump re­moved her, he did so on the ad­vice of Rudy Gi­u­liani, who was work­ing with cor­rupt Ukraini­ans she had an­tag­o­nized.

“In­di­vid­u­als, who ap­par­ently felt stymied by our ef­forts to pro­mote stated U.S. pol­icy against cor­rup­tion — that is, to do the mis­sion — were able to suc­cess­fully con­duct a cam­paign of dis­in­for­ma­tion against a sit­ting am­bas­sador, us­ing un­of­fi­cial back chan­nels,” she said. Her re­moval only un­der­mined the State Depart­ment’s an­ti­cor­rup­tion ef­forts.

Jor­dan’s in­ter­est in the topic is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment. He and most House Repub­li­cans voted in 2015 to au­tho­rize lethal mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine — even though Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex ranked it a dis­mal 142nd in the world. Cor­rup­tion was not on the GOP radar then.

In 2017, Trump ap­proved the aid de­spite Ukraine’s rep­u­ta­tion. In May, Trump’s own Pen­tagon cer­ti­fied Ukraine’s “con­tin­ued progress” on cor­rup­tion. Repub­li­cans in Congress didn’t urge Trump to with­hold aid to force re­form, be­cause they didn’t see it as nec­es­sary — un­til Trump de­cided to pre­tend it was.

If he was de­ter­mined to keep hard­earned U.S. tax dol­lars out of the hands of a crooked for­eign leader, it was the first time. Trump has shown a fond af­fec­tion for crooked for­eign lead­ers, and he has been happy to pro­vide them a cush­ion of U.S. cash.

Egypt gets some $1.3 bil­lion a year in mil­i­tary aid — triple the amount that Trump with­held from Ukraine. Yet Egypt scores nearly as low as Ukraine in the Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional in­dex.

The worst-rated coun­try in the world, So­ma­lia, will get nearly $500 mil­lion this year. Has Trump called Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ab­dul­lahi Mo­hamed to re­quest good-gov­ern­ment re­forms? Has he ever heard the name Mo­hamed Ab­dul­lahi Mo­hamed?

Afghanista­n and Iraq, no­to­ri­ous for cor­rup­tion, get large sums of Amer­i­can as­sis­tance. Trump is a loyal friend to Vladimir Putin, who mirac­u­lously be­came one of the rich­est peo­ple in the world on a gov­ern­ment salary.

So is it plau­si­ble that Trump cared about graft in Ukraine? Don’t make me laugh. Any­one who reads the memo of his July 25 phone con­ver­sa­tion with Ze­len­skiy can see his mind was else­where.

Trump never ut­tered such words as “cor­rup­tion” and “re­form.” He point­edly re­minded Ze­len­skiy how much the U.S. has done for Ukraine. He urged him to in­ves­ti­gate the Bi­dens. He told him to talk with Rudy Gi­u­liani — who ad­mits try­ing to get the Ukraini­ans to go after the Bi­dens.

When Ze­len­skiy ex­pressed a strong de­sire for anti-tank mis­siles, Trump got to the ac­tual point: “I would like you to do us a fa­vor though.” Not: “I would like you to adopt the fol­low­ing re­forms to en­sure that our as­sis­tance is not wasted.” The fa­vor was to un­earth — or fab­ri­cate — in­for­ma­tion that would dis­credit Democrats, es­pe­cially his po­ten­tial 2020 elec­tion ri­val.

Jim Jor­dan may be able to fool many Repub­li­cans on the cor­rup­tion de­fense. But I don’t think he could fool a poly­graph.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at­tends a cam­paign rally Fri­day at the Cen­tu­ryLink Cen­ter in Bossier City, Louisiana.

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