As another key career diplomat witness appeared on Tuesday in the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump‘s dealings with Ukraine, Trump called himself the victim of a “lynching”, a comment that dredged up a painful chapter in race relations and was swiftly condemned by politicians and many online.
Trump, a day after calling on his fellow Republicans to get tougher in defending him in the inquiry, inflamed the controversy by writing on Twitter, “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”
African American politicians and others denounced Trump for the remark, highlighting of the past US history of lynching of black people, particularly in formerly pro-slavery Southern states.
“Lynching is a reprehensible stain on this nation’s history, as is this President. We’ll never erase the pain and trauma of lynching, and to invoke that torture to whitewash your own corruption is disgraceful,” Senator Kamala Harris, a Democratic presidential contender, wrote on Twitter.
But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, whose home state of South Carolina has a large black population, defended Trump’s language, saying that “this is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American.”
Trump’s remark was his latest racially tinged comment, coming two years after he said there were “very fine people on both sides” after clashes at a rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the rally, a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, urged Trump to apologise for his lynching comment.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) tweeted: “To compare impeachment to a lynching is both infuriating and disgusting. It supersedes any level of insensitivity and ignorance previously displayed by President Trump. No more excuses, no more explanations.”
To compare impeachment to a lynching is both infuriating and disgusting. It supersedes any level of insensitivity and ignorance previously displayed by President Trump. No more excuses, no more explanations. #ImpeachHate
— NAACP (@NAACP) October 22, 2019
Some Republicans denounced Trump’s language.
Senator Susan Collins tweeted that “‘lynching’ brings back images of a terrible time in our nation’s history, and the President never should have made that comparison.”
Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger called on Trump to retract the remark, writing on Twitter, “We can all disagree on the process, and argue merits. But never should we use terms like ‘lynching’ here. The painful scourge in our history has no comparison to politics.”
Tim Scott, the sole black Republican in the Senate who, like Graham, represents South Carolina, told reporters he understands Trump likening the impeachment inquiry to a “death row trial”, but added, “I wouldn’t use the word lynching.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters, “That’s not the language I would use.”
Trump’s comments came as William Taylor, who as the charge d’affaires is the top US envoy in Ukraine, appeared on Tuesday for a closed-door testimony to the three Democratic-led House of Representatives committees leading the inquiry.
Taylor’s appearance marked another pivotal development in the political drama unfolding in Washington, DC – focusing on Republican Trump’s request to Ukraine to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden – that threatens Trump’s presidency even as he pursues re-election in 2020.
According to the Washington Post, Taylor told investigators that he was told the US was withholding aid from Ukraine to try to secure a public commitment for investigations relating to the 2016 presidential election and a Ukrainian company where the son of former Vice President Joe Biden worked.
That reported testimony contradicts Trump’s claim of “no quid pro quo” (Latin for a favour for a favour).
Trump’s administration has not cooperated in the impeachment inquiry, seeking to block testimony and documents. The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena to compel Taylor’s testimony after the State Department had directed him not to appear, an official involved in the inquiry said, Reuters news report.
The House is focusing on Trump’s request during a July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he investigate former vice president Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump. Hunter Biden had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump made his request – described by Democrats as an improper invitation for foreign interference in an American election – after withholding $391m in security aid approved by the US Congress to Ukraine. Zelensky agreed to the request. The aid was later released.
Taylor mentioned his concern about withholding US aid on September 9 to Kurt Volker, the State Department’s then special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, in a text message provided to investigators and later made public.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote.
Taylor was tapped to serve as charge d’affaires in Kyiv, where he had served as US ambassador from 2006 to 2009, after Trump abruptly removed Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had portrayed her as resisting his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Yovanovitch testified in the impeachment inquiry on October 11.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and accused Democrats of trying to remove him to prevent him from being re-elected.
If the Democratic-led House approves of articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump, the Republican-led Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office. Few Republicans have so far shown an inclination to remove him.