The facts are indisputable and more than sufficient to justify the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry.
As the whole world knows by now, President Donald Trump, in a July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky, pressured Zelensky to investigate one of his principal political opponents—Joe Biden-- in return for releasing congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine and a presidential meeting in the White House. Those who doubt it can take the word of several current and former Trump aides, including Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Soundland.
Trump was flagrantly abusing the power of his office while deploying the full force and weight of the United States to obtain from a foreign government in desperate need of military assistance interference in the 2020 presidential election to promote his own reelection chances. In other words, Trump abused power for his own corrupt purposes-- personal gain--a demonstrable quid pro quo, and an act in of itself, worthy of an impeachment inquiry. In addition, Trump violated federal law, which declares that it is illegal for “a person to solicit, accept, or receive” anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a United States election.
Trump’s shakedown of Zelensky is not the first time he has sought foreign interference in an American election. Days after news broke about his pressure on Zelensky, Trump, in front of television cameras, invited China to conduct its own investigation of Biden. Trump’s brazen violation of constitutional limits, federal law and disregard of the hallowed American principle of free and fair elections-- of, by and for Americans-- has become a predictable pattern. Everyone remembers, for instance, his nationally televised appeal to the Russians in the 2016 election—“Russia, are you listening?”
The July 25 phone conversation, revealed in an edited transcript released by the White House in a failed effort to disguise Trump’s illicit demands, is reminiscent of the “smoking gun” tape that defined Watergate, the infamous conversation that convinced Americans that President Richard Nixon was, indeed, a crook. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on the firmest of foundations in opening an impeachment inquiry. In fact, the unfolding story of Trump’s efforts to block testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, by current and former administration officials, are acts of obstruction of justice of a coequal branch of government-- also worthy of an impeachment inquiry. If Speaker Pelosi wishes, she could task House committees to investigate Trump’s previous misconduct, the many attempts to obstruct justice documented by special counsel Robert Mueller. Those acts more than merit an impeachment inquiry.
To be clear, there would be no merit to an impeachment inquiry grounded on Trump’s assertion that he is a “stable genius,” enjoys “unlimited” power under Article 2 of the Constitution, and possesses “great and unmatched wisdom.” Nor would there be justification because of his crude and vulgar attacks on those who criticize him: “Mitt Romney is a pompous ass,” or that Joe Biden was “a good vice-president because he kissed Obama’s ass,” or in his dismissal of the House inquiry as “bullshit impeachment.” Descriptions of his critics as engaging in “treason” don’t provide grounds for an impeachment inquiry, either.
What, then, might constitute an impeachable offense? The Framers of the Constitution recognized the need for the mechanism of impeachment, possibly for the removal of a president before another election, for without it, as Benjamin Franklin told fellow delegates in the Constitutional Convention, “there would be no recourse but to assassination.” Impeachment was preferable, the Framers decided.
For starters, a criminal act committed by a president was not a necessary condition. We could surmise that the House might find such an act—shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, for example—worthy of impeachment, but crimes were left to the criminal justice system. Impeachable offenses, the Convention determined, involved grave political offenses that undermine the Constitution.
The Framers did not provide an exhaustive list of what constitutes an impeachable offense. The Constitution lists treason, bribery and “other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” “Treason,” a heinous act, is the lone offense defined in the Constitution. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason as specific acts: “levying War against” the United States, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” The offense of bribery is familiar. The latter category—“high crimes and misdemeanors,” is the broadest of the impeachment categories, and subject to more debate than the others.
Among other acts, the Framers’ laundry list of high crimes and misdemeanors included corruption, abuse of power, violation of foreign affairs powers, usurpation of power, subversion of the Constitution, negligence, perfidy, a scheme of peculation or oppression, and serious misconduct.
The House is surely correct to recognize the relevance of those impeachable offenses—corruption and abuse of power, at a minimum-- in President Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president. Others hit close to home and more than warrant the current impeachment inquiry. In the Convention, Gouverneur Morris spoke for his colleagues when he declared that a president should be impeached for “betrayal of his trust to a foreign power.”