Joni Ernst tweets about aliens, silent on Trump pushing Ukraine for political gain

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is among Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Congress. While in college, she visited the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR as part of an agricultural exchange. Now a member of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, she has met with high-level Ukrainian officials in Washington and Kyiv, advocating for the U.S. to “make it clear to Russia that we will stand by Ukraine in the face of unjustified aggression.”

Yet Iowa’s junior senator has been silent this week as multiple news organizations reported that President Donald Trump abused his power to seek political assistance from his Ukrainian counterpart.

The latest example of Trump’s unfitness stands out among administration scandals. For the first time, a whistleblower in the intelligence community has filed a complaint against the president of the United States. The Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson assessed the complaint as a matter of “urgent concern,” which should have led to an automatic referral to Congress within seven days. But the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has withheld the report on advice from the Justice Department.

On September 20, the Wall Street Journal was first to report and the Washington Post later confirmed that during a July 25 phone call, Trump “repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer.”

Trump didn’t deny bringing up that criminal probe with the Ukrainian president, telling journalists, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.”

One can hardly imagine a more grotesque use of presidential power than demanding that a foreign leader pursue a criminal investigation to boost Trump’s re-election prospects. It would be a betrayal of national security–not to mention conspiracy to commit extortion–for the president to imply that military aid to an ally is conditional on meddling in our elections.

Furthermore, as noted by Walter Shaub, a top ethics official in the Obama administration, it’s a big problem to “have the President of the United States telling a foreign leader to work on an official matter with a person in his private employ.” In addition, Trump and Giuliani may have engaged in a conspiracy to violate federal campaign finance law, which prohibits soliciting anything of value from foreign nationals (though that’s not unprecedented, since Trump did it in plain sight in 2016).

Senate Republicans have generally kept quiet about Trump scandals, and this one’s no exception. But if anyone should feel obliged to speak out, it’s Ernst. She vouched for Trump’s foreign policy credentials in a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention.

We need a commander-in-chief who will stand up to our enemies, support our allies, and have our veterans’ back.

We need a leader who will ensure America remains a strong, stabilizing force around the globe, and who will keep us safe here at home.

Our country cannot take another four years just like the eight we’ve just had.

It is time to stand up and fight for the security of our children, our grandchildren, and ourselves.

With Hillary Clinton it’s always about her: it should be about you.

Donald Trump is focused on you.

Ernst has called for more assistance to Ukraine on many occasions. Meeting last December with Ukraine’s navy commander and ambassador to the U.S., she discussed “recent Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov. Not only did I reaffirm my support for Ukraine, but I told them I believe the United States must make it clear to Russia that we will stand by Ukraine in the face of unjustified aggression.”

In February, she visited the Ukrainian capital as part of a Congressional delegation and “met with senior Ukrainian military and government leaders, including the Minister of Defense.” In a news release after the trip, Ernst said,

“Being on the ground in Ukraine allowed me to directly convey to our ally that the United States will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with free, democratic governments. While Russia continues its aggression towards its neighbors and their sovereignty, the United States is here to promote good governance and provide greater military partnership with our ally, specifically through the development of Ukrainian special operations forces.”

The senator bragged in June about getting more “funding for our Ukrainian partners resisting Russian aggression” into the 2020 defense authorization bill, “with an increase of $50 million for weapons systems to ensure Ukraine’s defense and sovereignty.”

Now reports indicate that Trump may have stated or implied the U.S. would withhold military aid to Ukraine unless that country dug up dirt on the Democratic front-runner’s son.

Ernst hasn’t expressed any concern about the allegations, or called for the whistleblower’s complaint to be referred to Congress, or demanded an investigation by Senate committees. Her press releases and social media feeds ignored the story that’s consumed Washington all week.

The senator’s communications staff did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s request for comment. But staff found time on September 20 to publish a series of tweets (enclosed below) with alien-themed graphics to highlight wasteful “out of this world spending.” (Ernst rarely writes her own tweets; when she does, she signs them with her initials.)

Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley, the self-styled patron saint of whistleblowers, also has said nothing about the latest scandal in a news release or on his social media feeds. Although he’s not part of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Grassley has joined bipartisan demands for a “strong response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

What Grassley or Ernst think about the U.S. president possibly strong-arming Ukraine for campaign assistance is anyone’s guess.

Top image: Senator Joni Ernst and the Ukrainian flag. Photo of Ernst cropped from a picture posted on Ernst’s official Facebook page on August 3, when she met with the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly in Washington, DC.

Sample of tweets posted on Senator Joni Ernst’s official Twitter feed on September 20:

SEPTEMBER 21 UPDATE: Still no official comment from Ernst on this scandal, but she did make sure to put a video of herself wearing a Trump hat on social media.

SEPTEMBER 23 UPDATE: Ernst’s staff have not replied to my repeated inquiries on this subject. Meanwhile, Karoun Demirjian, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, and Carol D. Leonnig reported for the Washington Post,

President Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump’s order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They explained that the president had “concerns” and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.

The same article quotes Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy as saying that during a meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine earlier this month, “the Ukrainian president ‘directly’ expressed concerns at their meeting that ‘the aid that was being cut off to Ukraine by the president was a consequence’ of his unwillingness to launch an investigation into the Bidens.”

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