When a president repeatedly favors his own political and financial interests over those of the nation and its people, he’s a danger to our republic, a threat to our democracy.
When he blatantly favors his personal interests over our national security and the survival of a vulnerable strategic ally, that’s grounds for impeachment.
If the gross abuse of power related to President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine – and the subsequent and ongoing obstruction of justice – doesn’t demand an impeachment inquiry, it’s difficult to imagine what would.
The circumstantial evidence is clear. President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani both leaned on Ukraine – a stragetic ally dependent on U.S. aid to protect itself against Russia in a hot war – to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption. Wrapped in an unusual and selective concern about corruption in an allied nation (Trump has not expressed any serious concern about corruption in any other ally), the request for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to authorize a probe of the Bidens was a transparent effort to hurt Trump’s potential (if not probable) rival in the 2020 presidential race.
Trump’s call to Zelensky on July 25, in which the president has since admitted he spoke to the Ukrainian leader about corruption and the Bidens (and for which a transcript was due to be released Wednesday after this column was laid out), came close on the heals of two years of congressional investigation into whether Trump illegally colluded with the Russians to hurt his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election, then took multiple actions to obstruct any inquiry into that alleged collusion.
Whether the president’s actions regarding Russia rose to the level of indictable offenses (collusion, apparently not; obstruction of justice, most definitely yes), there’s no doubt that he encouraged Russian interference in our 2016 election (we all saw him do it), then took a series of steps to thwart any investigation into that effort.
In late July, post-Mueller report, Trump almost instantaneously began pressuring another foreign power – this one a key, dependent ally against Russia, Ukraine – to take steps to benefit his re-election bid. That confirms that Trump took no lessons from Russia-gate. To the contrary, he seemed emboldened after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s disappointing performance on Capital Hill, thinking, “Well, I guess I can do anything now.”
His call (or calls) to the Ukrainian president, as well as his private attorney Giuliani’s parallel pressure to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens – efforts that Trump should have known would become public – also suggest his judgment hasn’t improved in any measure. Whether that spectacularly poor judgment is a result of mental deterioration or innate stupidity is likely beside the point to Trump’s allies in Congress, who surely can’t ignore the fact that their anointed leader is becoming harder and harder to defend.
These conclusions are based on what’s been reported so far in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But you can bet that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Some of that iceberg began revealing itself Wednesday when the Trump administration released a summary memo of the July 25 call to Zelensky. The whistle-blower complaint – reportedly asserting that the president took a number of alarming actions in order to enlist Ukraine’s help in undermining a potential re-election opponent – is also expected to be released to Congress.
If anything is missing from the strong circumstantial evidence available so far, it’s been evidence of an explicit quid quo pro, where Trump actually informs the Ukrainian leadership that they will lose vital military aid if they don’t cooperate and launch a corruption investigation into the Bidens (for whom there’s no official allegation or evidence of illegality).
While that’s too much to hope for (Trump has been likened to a mafia figure for good reason), fortunately, it’s not necessary. The implied transaction was obvious. Powerful Nation A wants something from vulnerable and dependent Nation B, and Nation A has been holding back something of value (a $392 million package of military and security aid), while requesting something else of value from Nation B. Nation B isn’t stupid, and only a Trump cultist would profess to not recognize the expected exchange.
The picture gained sharper focus Monday evening when both the Washington Postand New York Times published articles citing three and two, respectively, senior administration officials confirming that Trump “told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine” (Washington Post) at least a week before the aforementioned phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Sources said the president’s personal involvement in delaying this specific aid package (money approved by Congress) was highly unusual and troubling. This was especially the case considering the United States’ significant national security interest in Ukraine being able to defend itself against Russian aggression. (The aid package was finally released to Ukraine on Sept. 11.)
Expect more incriminating facts to emerge on this historical scandal.
Yet, we really don’t need further evidence to know that this massively corrupt president broke the law in a way that risked the United States’ national security interests, and that could have left an ally, the Ukraine, at the mercy of Trump’s friend Putin and the Russians.
Trump needs to be removed from office as soon as possible, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally recognized that on Tuesday when the authorized a formal impeachment inquiry. While she was correct to be concerned about how that could affect freshman members of Congress in red districts, Pelosi no longer had anything holding her back once many of those members started swinging toward impeachment after the Ukraine revelations.
Whatever legal way that it’s accomplished, the sooner Trump is gone, the sooner our country can put the daily drama behind us and get back to addressing the many intractable problems that we face, including the imminent threat of Russian interference in our elections.
The Trump presidency has been a massive distraction, and speaking of distractions, it’s profoundly unhealthy for the leader of a superpower to be perpetually obsessed with his own political survival. In addition to the obvious question of when Trump finds time to do his job as president, his judgment has been crippled by this obsession. There’s no telling how that will impact other crises, domestic and foreign, that we’re certain to run into. Does anyone put it past our president to provoke war with Iran as his biggest deflection yet? I certainly wouldn’t.
Hopefully, the impeachment inquiry will make it clear to the American people what this president has done to sabotage the rule of law while pursuing his own political interests at the expense of national security and defense.