Calls to defense chief are smoking gun of Yoon’s interference in Marine probe, say critics

Posted on : 2024-05-30 17:37 KST Modified on : 2024-05-30 17:46 KST
Revelations of the president’s communication with the defense minister at the time have only added fuel to opposition efforts to pass a special counsel probe
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup. (Yonhap) 
President Yoon Suk-yeol and former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup. (Yonhap) 

Following reports that President Yoon Suk-yeol spoke with former Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup on the phone three times on the very day a team of investigators with Korea’s Marine Corps asked the police to pursue charges concerning the death of a Marine during a rescue operation, the Democratic Party and other opposition parties repeated calls on Wednesday for a full investigation into the matter.  

This additional evidence that Yoon interfered in the investigation gives the political opposition even more grounds for bringing a special counsel probe bill that Yoon has already vetoed up for another vote in the 22nd National Assembly. Opposition figures are repeatedly mentioning the possibility of impeachment as they try to drum up support for that option. 

In a press conference held in front of the presidential office in Yongsan that afternoon, the Democratic Party said that Yoon’s exercise of his reconsideration request powers — a de facto veto — on the special prosecutor act on May 21 constituted an “abuse of authority and a clear serious crime.” 

The party’s floor leader Park Chan-dae said, “The fact that the president personally called former Minister Lee is evidence that he interfered [in the investigation].” 

“[Yoon] obstructed the investigation while vetoing a special prosecutor in order to cover up his own criminal allegations,” he added. 

At its regular session a day earlier, the National Assembly held a renewed vote on the special prosecutor act, which resulted in the legislation failing to pass when it only received 179 votes in favor — 17 short of the amount needed for passage. 

“The moment their phone conversation began is when Park Jeong-hun, who was leading the Marine Corps’ investigation, was apprehended for disobeying orders, but the real crime is disobeying the orders of the Korean people,” said Jung Chung-rae, member of the Democratic Party’s Supreme Council. 

“We need to redirect the investigation by identifying President Yoon as a suspect,” he added. 

“During investigations into influence peddling under the Park Geun-hye administration, the tablet PC was a smoking gun. The revelation of Yoon’s phone conversations is also a smoking gun, and the people of Korea are watching to see if it becomes the trigger,” he declared.  

“The impeachment train is sounding its whistle,” Jung said.  

During a press conference on Wednesday, Cho Kuk, the leader of the Rebuilding Korea Party, said, “The three phone conversations are direct evidence that point to the very high probability that Yoon directly ordered Park’s dismissal.”  

“Regardless of Yoon’s constitutional rights that prevent his indictment, he is clearly a suspect in this criminal investigation,” Cho added.  

Opposition party members elected to the 22nd National Assembly have vowed to resurrect the bill that would call for a special prosecutorial investigation into the death of the Marine corporal, identified by his surname, Chae. The recent revelations pointing to Yoon’s direct suppression of investigative efforts have only added steam.  

Members of the Democratic Party, including floor leader Park Chan-dae, hold a press conference outside the presidential office in Seoul on May 29, 2024, to condemn the president’s use of a veto to prevent a special counsel probe into suspicions of outside influence on an investigation into the death of a Marine last year. (Yonhap)
Members of the Democratic Party, including floor leader Park Chan-dae, hold a press conference outside the presidential office in Seoul on May 29, 2024, to condemn the president’s use of a veto to prevent a special counsel probe into suspicions of outside influence on an investigation into the death of a Marine last year. (Yonhap)

Rebuilding Korea Party members visited the Daejeon National Cemetery on Wednesday to pay their respects to Chae while announcing their intention to pass as special counsel probe. The Democratic Party is scheduled to convene a party caucus on Thursday, the official commencement of the 22nd National Assembly, to adopt passing the special counsel bill as a party platform.  

Opposition party politicians are also expected to participate in a rally condemning the Yoon administration and calling for a special counsel probe into Chae’s death. The rally is scheduled to be held in front of Seoul Station on June 1.  

Despite the polls indicating high public support for the bill, Yoon and his party have repeatedly vetoed and shut down the investigation. This has led to public accusations of Yoon and the ruling party of exploiting their power as a personal shield — which has redounded in the favor of his opponents.   

“Yoon will likely veto the bill again, but he will be unable to avoid public judgment,” Cho declared.  

One Democratic Party lawmaker who has served multiple terms told the Hankyoreh that Yoon’s veto of the special counsel probe for the Chae case is, “at its core, a rejection of the public's wrath at the polls over the fiasco of letting Lee Jong-sup out of the country.” 
 
“The president and the ruling party dug their own graves with that decision,” they added. 
 
In addition to renewing efforts to pass a special counsel bill for the case, there is also talk of a “strategic” pursuit of impeachment among opposition party lawmakers. While hinting at the possibility of impeachment at party meetings or interviews in the press, lawmakers’ official stance has been to draw the line and say there must be reasonable suspicion of clear criminality to pursue impeachment. 
 
“Whether to impeach a president is for the public to decide, not lawmakers,” said a source in the Democratic Party leadership. “We can indirectly raise the idea of impeachment for the public, but there's no need for us to get ahead of public sentiment and call for impeachment.” 

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter; Lee Woo-yun, staff reporter 

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