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John Kerry: Congress Must Get To The Bottom Of Whether Trump Abused His Power

Former Secretary of State John Kerry
Courtesy of John Kerry's Facebook page

Former Secretary of State John Kerry says it’s imperative for Congress to figure out whether President Donald Trump abused his power to harm a political rival.

Kerry’s comments to St. Louis Public Radio on Tuesday came ahead of his speech next week in St. Louis amid louder calls for impeachment over Trump’s conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“It appears that repeatedly he was leveraging United States taxpayer money and the safety and security of the country against his desire to get [Zelensky] to become his opposition research arm,” Kerry said. “And that is an abuse of power on its face, if that is what happened. So I think it’s critical the United States Congress properly find out exactly what happened, get all the relevant documents and transcripts and make a decision.”

Trump is accused of trying to pressure Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the Democrats seeking to oust Trump in 2020. The president confirmed reports he ordered that military aid to Ukraine be blocked ahead of his conversation with Zelensky but has denied any impropriety. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday afternoon that she was initiating an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Trump has accused then-Vice President Biden of holding back loan guarantees in order to help his son, Hunter, who was serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Kerry, who was secretary of state when Biden was tapped to be then-President Barack Obama’s point person on Ukraine, said Biden was “carrying out official policy of the entire administration — at the behest and at the request of the professional diplomats who felt we needed to get rid of corruption in Ukraine.”

“And the request was the prosecutor was not prosecuting major corruption,” Kerry said. “He was not going after some of the oligarchs who stood in the way of reform. And so the whole administration was working to leverage the departure of the prosecutor and the removal of a major block to dealing with corruption.”

Trumpannounced on Tuesday that he “authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine.” Before Trump sent that tweet, Kerry said “if you have a potential proceeding examining whether or not the president has abused his power — it seems to me it would be in the interest of the president to prove that he hasn’t.”

Can Democrats compete in Missouri again?

Kerry will speak next Tuesday at Powell Hall as part of the Maryville University St. Louis Speakers Series. He said he plans to talk about bringing people together to solve big problems — as well as how climate change affects jobs and competition. 

Kerry lost Missouri by about 7 percentage points in his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004 — a narrower margin than Trump’s roughly 19-point victory in 2016. He said the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 should campaign in Missouri on more than just a token basis.

“I would hope that Missouri is a state that we could really get back to being competitive in and winning,” Kerry said. “I think you kind of have to be there to campaign and show people that you don’t have horns, that your positions are very much in sync with their dreams and their hopes — and that you’re going to stand up for American values and the nation and restore our position in the world as a leader.”

While Kerry lost Missouri, he did prevail in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — three states that Democrats likely need to win to capture the presidency in 2020. He said whoever is the Democratic nominee should vigorously campaign in the Midwest — and actively listen to people’s concerns.

“I think it’s very important for the nominee to go to these places, to listen to people, talk to them and explain their positions — and help people to not feel as if there’s a stereotype that you want to avoid,” Kerry said. “And you want people to be able to know firsthand for themselves what you’re thinking, rather than having it framed and shaped by negative advertising and by distortion and so forth — which inevitably happens in a lot of campaigns.”

One key variable about the Democratic nominee’s chances in the Midwest is the length of next year’s primary season.

“I wish I could have done more. I wish I had more time,” said Kerry, who won his party’s nomination in March. “But then you have to put together an entire national campaign in a matter of months. It’s very little time from April, May, June, August and September. But you know, boom! It goes by. And I hope we get a nominee as fast as possible.”

Politically Speaking

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.