The transcript of President Trump’s telephone with Ukrainian President Zelensky is out, but the fallout continues. As expected, the call is damning enough to keep the Trump critics on the offensive but vague enough for Trump supporters to explain the president’s actions away. In my view, which does not represent the other writers here or The Resurgent itself, the transcript combined with other evidence against President Trump easily justifies impeachment despite the defenses offered by Republicans.
Defenders of the president make several mistakes in rejecting the impeachment option, the first of which is to claim that impeachment requires an underlying crime. As I’ve pointed out before, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. Even though the constitutional basis for impeachment includes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the original intent of the phrase did not preclude impeaching officials for abuses of office that were not criminal in nature.
At the micro end of the scale, the president’s supporters deny that the phone call transcript is enough to warrant impeachment. I believe that they are wrong. While there is no explicit quid pro quo, there is an implicit one, especially in the context of the fact that President Trump had suspended aid to Ukraine the week before. Trump laments that the relationship with Ukraine is not “reciprocal” and Zalensky responds that he wants to cooperate and buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles. President Trump then says that he wants a “favor” from Zalensky. The favor turns out to include investigating Crowdstrike, the US cybersecurity company that investigated the 2016 DNC hack, as well as Joe Biden’s role in dismissing Ukraine’s former top prosecutor.
Trump’s defenders set the bar impossibly high. The only thing that would convince some people is an explicit, Godfather-esque statement in which Trump tells Zalensky, “I’m about to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” Nevertheless, the implication is clear: Play ball and you get your aid and the Javelins.
Trump’s defenders also tend to take each piece of evidence against him individually rather than looking at the big picture. In truth, the revelations of the Mueller report, in which Trump staffers testified under oath that the president ordered them to take action to impede or shut down a federal investigation, detailed an impeachable abuse of power. Mueller explained that the president couldn’t be indicted because of Justice Department policy, but any one of us who acted similarly would likely be sent to jail. Just ask Mike Flynn or George Papadopoulos.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. We also have the president’s decision to declare a national emergency to bypass the will of the people as expressed through their representatives to Congress. This is an egregious affront to the Constitution’s system of checks and balances and, if not corrected, will establish a precedent to be further abused by future presidents. Yesterday, in a vote that included 11 Republicans, the Senate voted to end the national emergency farce, but opponents lack the numbers to override an almost certain veto.
Further, the Trump Administration has habitually refused to respond to congressional oversight, again setting a precedent that will be followed and expanded by future presidents. Like Obama before him, Trump refuses to respond to congressional subpoenas for both documents and testimony. It was the refusal to provide the whistleblower complaint to Congress, not the contents of the telephone call, that spurred Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry.
An additional error on the part of Republicans is using the wrong yardsticks to measure President Trump. Frequent defenses are that he’s an outsider and doesn’t know any better or that the Democrats acted similarly. Both are damning. If the president is so ignorant that he can’t understand the law and ethics when his advisors explain it, then he should not be leading the country. Likewise, if an Administration whose stated goal was to “drain the swamp” is looking to swamp denizens for moral guidance, it has lost its way.
An objective measure rather than a subjective one is much better for the country. Ask the simple question, should any president use his office and taxpayer-funded foreign aid to influence a foreign country to investigate a political rival? Should the president use his office to block an investigation into his campaign? If you view the rule of law and the Constitution objectively, the answer has to be no.
To check whether you are viewing the situation objectively, simply imagine that Obama did the same things that Trump is accused of doing. Republican heads would be exploding rather than offering rationalizations. That’s the next error: Tribalism. Republicans defend Trump, not only because they like his policy and his style, but because he is leader of their tribe. This is simply a different strain of Trump Derangement Syndrome.
The bottom line here is that there is an abundant record of abuses of office by President Trump. Some would justify impeachment on their own, but taken as a whole, they provide a strong argument that the president should be removed from office. He is simply is not trustworthy with the power that he has been granted.
In fact, the case against Trump is much stronger than the cases against the two previously impeached presidents. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury, an offense that even many Republicans felt could have been handled by censure, and Andrew Johnson was impeached for appointing a replacement cabinet official without congressional consent. Quinn Hillyer makes a detailed comparison of other incidents where impeachment was considered in the Washington Examiner. Trump’s case is stronger than any of them. As Erick Erickson pointed out, the case is likely to become stronger when the whistleblower complaint drops.
Trump’s abuses of power, encroachment on congressional authority, and failure to accept congressional oversight have essentially left Congress no choice but to impeach or accept a diminished role. While I cannot say for sure that impeachment is politically wise or good for the country, it is clearly justified by President Trump’s actions. If impeachment is not justified for President Trump, it may as well be written out of the Constitution. Especially for a party that claims to favor the rule of law and the Constitution, an elected official should be held to a higher standard, not graded on a curve.
Originally published on The Resurgent