If President Donald Trump’s conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is not a basis for impeachment, I am not sure what would be enough. There is no dispute that the conversation occurred. There is no doubt that what Trump did was an abuse of his office and, almost certainly, illegal: using his authority as president of the United States to try and get a foreign country to investigate a political rival.
Over the last year, I have been ambivalent about whether the Democrats should pursue impeachment proceedings against Trump. I did certainly believe there was a basis for doing so.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump has been violating the emoluments clauses of the Constitution, literally, every day. These provisions prevent a person holding a position in the federal government from receiving benefits from foreign governments and prohibit the president from receiving benefits from the U.S. other than the salary paid for doing the job. But through businesses he wholly owns, Trump is receiving huge benefits from being president.
Also, the Mueller report documents Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that, under Justice Department rules, he could not indict a sitting president and, therefore, would make no determination as to whether Trump was engaged in illegal activity. But the evidence in the report proves Trump obstructed justice.
However, I still questioned whether it was worth the House impeaching Trump – because there was no chance that two-thirds of the Senate would vote to remove him from office.
The revelation of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Zelensky crosses a new and even clearer line. The evidence of wrongdoing is so blatant that it would be dereliction of constitutional duty to not launch impeachment proceedings.
About a week before the call, Trump held up about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. Then Trump said to Zelensky during the call, “I would like you to do us a favor.” He wanted Ukraine to look into details about a cybersecurity firm that investigated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, as well as to gather information about Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. There is no evidence that either did anything wrong. And Trump repeatedly said that his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr would call Ukrainian officials to offer assistance in the investigations.2016 election by saying there was no evidence of “collusion.”
So far, Trump’s defense has been to say that there was no “quid pro quo.” But that badly misses the point: A quid pro quo is not required for this to be an abuse of power or a crime. Simply requesting that a foreign government do this was egregiously wrong.
But I believe that any jury would find a quid pro quo in these circumstances. Imagine if I have an employee who is seeking a significant promotion, and we have a meeting about that promotion. At the meeting, I ask the employee to have sex with me or to do something illegal. There is no doubt that I would be violating the law, even if I don’t say that the promotion depends on these acts. A quid pro quo does not require an explicit demand.
The Constitution provides for impeachment for “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.” The latter was meant to allow for impeachment for serious abuses of power, regardless of whether there was a violation of the law.
None of this should be partisan. If a Democratic president did things like this, Republicans rightly would be clamoring for impeachment. It’s naive and idealistic, but I wish that somehow people could set aside their politics and focus on the conduct and the law. If Republicans thought that a president lying about sex with an intern was an impeachable offense, how are Trump’s actions not high crimes and misdemeanors?