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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

How the line vanished between U.S. diplomacy and Trump's agenda

Ukraine's former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in March.

Ukraine's former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in March. Credit: SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images/Pavlo Gonchar

When key witnesses appear before a House impeachment panel this week, their testimony promises to shed new light not only on the Ukraine scandal but on the wider issue of how this White House conducts its business.

President Donald Trump on July 25 asked Ukraine's leader for a "favor," clearly seeking foreign help for his candidacy and his party.

If the United States had an autocracy, Trump's interests and the nation's would be considered one and the same. We don't — and they aren't. But Trump's counterpart in Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelensky, could be forgiven if he got a different impression for a while.

Last Thursday, it was reported that Zelensky had been ready to bite on Trump's request that he announce an investigation aimed in part at damaging Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who polls showed to be Trump's biggest threat in next year's election.

Usually campaigns do opposition research before sounding off.

Here, the White House and not the campaign aimed to set up a foreign news conference that would heighten suspicion about Hunter Biden's energy company job in Ukraine and feed a "theory" that could obscure Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

When word spread that Trump & Co. had put a hold on Ukraine arms aid, Congress reacted with rage. Neither major American party supported Trump's delay. The aid went through and Zelensky's announcement vaporized.

If nothing else, Trump's conduct in the Ukraine affair stands to embarrass the U.S. abroad, especially as our officials lecture theirs about corruption.

Another governance problem results from the president's personal off-payroll representative, Rudy Giuliani, evidently usurping the State Department's role with the president's approval.

"This isn’t foreign policy," Giuliani claimed in May regarding his Ukraine activities. But if not, why did the ex-mayor and his clients push to remove Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine? Will Congress pin down the answer?

Another domestic mess arises from the Trump camp leaning on connected Ukrainian players in a way that creates the appearance of a rigged witch hunt against U.S. Democrats.

Former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko initially seemed to support Giuliani's assertions that the Bidens halted a probe into te big gas company Burisma. Lutsenko later recanted, saying he never saw “any possible violation of Ukrainian law" by the Bidens.

An even bigger question is how Giuliani's skulduggery squares with legitimate U.S. diplomatic interests in the region — such as trade, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, or relations with the European Union.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said last week: "What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine: It was incoherent. It depends on who you talk to; they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo."

That's an interesting way for an administration ally to fend off the perception of a partisan extortion attempt.

Graham's lack-of-ability alibi does little, however, to reassure anyone that Trump was even trying to put America's interests ahead of his own.

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