Members of the House and Senate must live up to their oaths of office and vote to impeach and convict or make a mockery of the constitution
Donald Trump withheld US military assistance to Ukraine until it agreed to help Trumps re-election campaign. That is an abuse of power of the highest order – a corruption of American democracy that undermines national security and requires that Trump be removed from office.
As Congress begins public hearings to determine whether Trumps actions merit impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate, its vital that the process focuses on these simple facts of Trumps corruption. Over recent weeks the House has conducted depositions of current and former officials, all of which have corroborated Trumps abuse of power. But since the deposition transcripts from those officials are thousands of pages long, the details can get lost in the endless spin by politicians and the media. Dont expect much new information from the public hearings because the facts are already clear and conclusive. Rather, this is an opportunity for the public to hear directly from participants in this saga and for the American people to understand just how dangerous Trumps actions are.
So, what should the American people watch for in the hearings and the process that could lead to impeachment?
First, focus on the facts. As the 2020 campaign began, Trump tried to force Ukraine to manufacture a scandal about Trumps domestic political opponent the former vice-president, Joe Biden despite zero evidence of wrongdoing. Trump also wanted Ukraine to fabricate evidence of a false conspiracy theory that somehow connects Ukraine to the 2016 campaign. Trump withheld military assistance from Ukraine and a White House meeting with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, until Ukraine agreed to smear Trumps opponents. And Trump got numerous US government officials including the vice-president, Mike Pence, and US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland as well as his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to take part in the extortion scheme.
The bottom line is clear, and confirmed by the transcript of the 25 July phone call between Trump and Zelensky released by the White House: Trump abused his power and admitted to it.
Second, the impeachment process must show Americans why Trumps actions were so bad. Trump abused his official power to get a foreign country to help his re-election campaign. Trump potentially disobeyed the law by withholding aid that Congress had already ordered be given to Ukraine. And Trump subjected a key US foreign policy goal supporting Ukraines sovereignty in the face of Russias invasion to his personal goals. These are devastating consequences that strike at the heart of American national security and democracy.
Some of Trumps supporters have argued this is how foreign policy works. When asked whether the extortion scheme was a quid pro quo, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said, we do that all the time in foreign policy. As the impeachment process continues, we are likely to hear Trump supporters attempt to gaslight Americans into believing that this behavior is normal.
But its not normal. Many of those deposed and whom the public will hear from in the coming weeks are life-long, highly trained national security officials who told Congress that Trumps attempt to extort Ukraine for personal gain was wrong and that many of them tried to stop it and reported the wrongdoing. Trump even ousted the US ambassador to Ukraine for trying to stop this extortion.
And while so much of the recent public debate has swirled around the question of a quid pro quo, the American people must not let this debate distract them. Even if there had been no explicit quid pro quo and there was Trump still grossly abused his power. Any conversation with the president carries tremendous official power, and Zelensky knew exactly what Trump was asking and felt the pressure of the worlds most powerful country pushing him to advance the personal interests of its president. Furthermore, it is illegal to ask for campaign help from a foreign entity.
While Trump and his supporters claim that Trump was attempting to root out corruption in Ukraine, in reality Trump was pressuring Ukraine into committing corrupt acts acts the Ukrainians knew were wrong, and repeatedly tried to resist despite desperately needing US military aid. In a telling moment from the testimony of deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent, we learned that when former US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker objected to Ukrainian officials investigating the previous Ukrainian president, Ukrainian officials responded by pointing out American hypocrisy: You mean the type of investigations youre pushing for us to do on Biden and Clinton? The sad fact is that Trump was turning the US government into a corrupt enterprise in the service of his own personal interests, making America look like just another kleptocratic dictatorship.
As the impeachment process heats up, Trump and his allies will do whatever it takes to try to muddy the waters. They will throw around the words Clinton, Biden, and corruption to distract. And when all else fails they will admit that Trumps actions were wrong, but not impeachable, as some have already begun to do.
But this is a slam dunk case. The question is not whether Trump did it its whether the members of the House and Senate will live up to their oaths of office and vote to impeach and convict. Allowing Trump to get away with this would be to condone wrongdoing at the highest levels, and to make a mockery of the constitution. And if Trump is not removed from office, it will give him the green light to further abuse his power and it would make clear that future presidents can too.