There are two grounds for impeachment that stem from President Trump’s July 25 conversation with the Ukrainian president and perhaps other actions and statements seeking help in his re-election campaign (some of which may be communicated through his private lawyer):

  • Did he try to enlist a foreign government in finding dirt on a political opponent?
  • Is he now obstructing an investigation?

The first issue is not whether there was a quid pro quo (aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on former vice president Joe Biden), although that would be egregious. So far we have Rudolph W. Giuliani’s statement on CNN that he did talk to the Ukraine government about Biden. That is devastating evidence because Giuliani was there on Trump’s behalf, not as a representative of the U.S. government. What Giuliani was requesting was personal to Trump (help against Biden), not a matter of United States policy (e.g., generically you have to clean up corruption).

Trump has suggested in his numerous public statements that he did talk to the Ukrainians about corruption: “It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country you think is corrupt? One of the reasons the new president got elected is he was going to stop corruption, so it’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.” That does not explain why Giuliani was there pressing Ukraine to investigate Biden, nor does it account for the report from the Wall Street Journal that in a single call Trump eight times pressed the Ukrainians to work with Giuliani on finding dirt on Biden.

On Sunday, Trump was more specific about Biden: “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”

The answer to the question as to whether Trump tried to enlist Ukraine to help his reelection campaign is partially answered by Giuliani’s presence in the story line. (“Since spring, Giuliani has pushed the Ukrainians to investigate a gas tycoon who had Hunter Biden on the board of Burisma Holdings starting in 2014. According to the New York Times, Hunter Biden was paid as much as $50,000 some months for his work,” The Post reported.) Giuliani should be subpoenaed and held in contempt if he refuses to answer questions. (There is no attorney-client privilege that protects criminal activity nor was Giuliani acting as an attorney in this episode; in any case, Giuliani has waived any privilege by blabbing about his work all over TV.)

To investigate this conduct, the House needs some or all of the following: The transcript of the call (which one can think of as the White House tapes in the Watergate scandal), the whistleblower complaint that legally must be forwarded to Congress, and any other witnesses to the conduct pertaining to aid for dirt on Biden. The most recent reports suggest that the inquiry should include acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who allegedly worked to hold up delivery of aid and provide lawmakers with a misleading explanation for the delay.

That bring us to the obstruction allegation. If Trump directed and continues to direct others to withhold from congressional investigators material relevant to the House’s investigation (e.g., refusing to turn over the whistleblower complaint, instructing Giuliani to refuse to answer questions), this is obstruction. Congress may choose to go to court to compel production of the evidence (as happened in Watergate), but it can simply take his refusal at face value and decide if that in the impeachment context constitutes a violation of his oath of office.

None of this requires investigation of a quid pro quo, although evidence should quickly establish whether aid was withheld explicitly to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden. A quick investigation of the facts should take a few weeks at most. Unlike the House investigation of Trump’s financial dealings or of the Mueller report, the House should leave no doubt from the get-go that this will be an impeachment hearing. The outcome of these hearings will be either the drafting articles of impeachment or a decision not to do so.

The Ukraine scandal is an exquisitely clear and simple matter, although Trump is doing his best to obscure what is at issue. A formal statement from the speaker and/or a speech to the country can lay all this out. If the media is liable to get sidetracked on other issues, the House should not be. Keep it simple and quick. If he invited Ukraine to interfere in our election, he must go.

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