One way they might do this is to heavily feature President Trump’s corruption in the impeachment inquiry: That is, Trump’s nonstop self-dealing and profiteering off the presidency.
Done well, a focus on Trump’s sordid and relentless self-enrichment, his constant use of the presidency to shovel taxpayer money into his businesses’ coffers, can hopefully bring home in a uniquely vivid way Trump’s wrongdoing, his contempt for rules, laws and norms, and his all-around treatment of the country and our political system as his own personal doormat.
Trump just announced that he will be releasing a full transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president, which will supposedly show that he didn’t pressure him to investigate former vice president Joe Biden at all. This is rank misdirection: The already known facts are damning enough: Whether there was any explicit pressure or quid pro quo, Trump leveraged the power of the presidency to get a foreign power to interfere in our election on his behalf.
That’s appalling. And so is the fact that Trump officials continue to break the law by refusing to turn the full whistleblower complaint (which reportedly involves far more than just pressure on Ukraine) over to Congress. That remains far more important than just getting the transcript.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Intelligence Committee, just announced that the whistleblower wants to talk to his committee. So that aspect of the story might yield much more grist for the impeachment inquiry.
But the fact remains that the Ukraine and whistleblower elements of this ongoing story — even though they are profoundly serious — are probably not enough by themselves to get quite the sort of breakthrough that might really move the public.
That’s where Trump’s corruption and self-dealing come in.
Vox’s David Roberts points out that the special counsel report’s release and its aftermath proved that the facts alone aren’t enough — if Democrats can’t tell voters a story, then it doesn’t really matter how damning those facts seem on their face.
Indeed, one of the challenges here will be that when it comes to Trump’s self-enrichment, a lot of the facts are already out there. A good deal of Trump’s self-dealing has been reported on already.
An impeachment inquiry focused partly on that side of Trump’s corruption could flesh out the broader narratives here and weave them together into a bigger story.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the abuses and corruption that have been happening for the past two and a half years,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me.
The challenge here is to bring together all the constituent parts of Trump’s corruption. For instance, there’s the nonstop violations of the emoluments clause, in which Trump has profited to an unknown degree by foreign spending at his businesses. A recent report by CREW put together this extraordinary tally:
One-hundred eleven officials from 65 foreign governments, including 57 foreign countries, have made 137 visits to a Trump property, raising the question of how much foreign money has been spent at Trump’s properties.
Then there’s the degree to which Republican officials spend money at Trump’s properties, something that has become routine in the Trump era. Republican campaigns and organizations have spent nearly $5 million at Trump properties since he took office.
Central to telling this story is a focus on the fact that when Trump refused to divest in his properties, he promised to keep his business and governing separate. But he completely betrayed that promise, routinely staying at his properties (drawing taxpayer money and publicity to them) and even actively working to use the presidency to draw more business to them.
For instance, Trump is trying to host the next Group of Seven at his Doral resort, again using the presidency to corral foreign governments and their entourages (and with them international attention) as his customers. Meanwhile, his vice president, Mike Pence, stayed at Trump’s resort in Ireland amid circumstances that rendered the move almost comically unjustifiable.
Democrats are already investigating those latter two matters, so it shouldn’t be hard to loop those things into a broader impeachment inquiry.
“You can bring in experts and people who have been tracking this, and march through all that evidence,” Bookbinder told me, adding that one way to make the case for “high crimes and misdemeanors” is to dramatize Trump’s “systematic violation” of anti-corruption provisions in the constitution, such as the emoluments clauses.
Bookbinder suggested that Democrats should “march through episode after episode” of Trump crossing the line dividing business from governing “again and again.”
The story to tell here is that Trump has relentlessly placed his own interests — financial and political alike — before the interests of the nation and in so doing has serially betrayed the country.