There was no quid pro quo. Wrong. There was. Right after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his desire to buy U.S. munitions, Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” He then went on to ask Ukraine for its help, first, to clear him of charges of collusion with Russia and, then (“the other thing”), to “find out about” Joe Biden. This demand was buttressed by Trump’s stoppage, at least a week before the call, of nearly $400 million in U.S. aid.
The president is allowed to ask for foreign help with a corruption investigation. True, but there is no investigation of Biden — and if there were, it would be conducted by the FBI, not the president’s personal lawyer. The reason there’s no investigation is that Biden did nothing wrong in pressing Ukraine to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor — who was not, contrary to Trump’s lies, probing the energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Trump was asking for the Ukrainians to start an investigation to help him politically.
All presidents politicize foreign policy. True, to varying degrees, but no president has ever so blatantly asked for foreign interference to help him win. The closest parallel is Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to encourage Saigon to sabotage peace talks with North Vietnam — but Nixon wasn’t yet president and those sordid machinations weren’t documented till years later.
The whistleblower relies on hearsay — just like the Steele dossier. The difference is that the whistleblower’s account — of the Trump-Zelensky conversation and the secret computer system used to store transcripts of Trump’s most egregious conversations with foreign leaders — has checked out. The rest of his allegations can be corroborated by subpoenaing his colleagues.
All of these claims are, as Chris Wallace of Fox News says, “deeply misleading.” The more serious concerns are raised by those — including my Post colleague George F. Will and the New York Times’s David Brooks — who agree that Trump did something terribly wrong but who nevertheless argue against impeachment as the remedy. Why impeach, they ask, when the Republican-controlled Senate won’t convict? The whole process, they warn, will put the country through agony and could backfire, potentially helping Trump to get reelected. What’s the point with an election 13 months away?
True, impeachment is a political gamble. It could help the party pushing impeachment (as the proceedings against Richard Nixon greatly did) or hurt it (as the proceedings against Bill Clinton slightly did). The problem is, Democrats have no choice. They can hardly wait for an election to oust Trump when the president is trying to rig the vote.
Even assuming the Senate doesn’t convict, impeachment in the House will accomplish what prosecutions are supposed to — it will punish and deter misconduct. It’s silly to argue that Trump actually wants to be impeached; his fury at the very prospect — and his willingness to release the rough transcript and the whistleblower’s complaint after stonewalling so many other requests — belie that notion. (Check out his Twitter freak-out against the “savages” on his trail.)
Trump has no desire to go down in history as only the third president in 230 years to be impeached. This will leave an indelible stain on his presidency that no amount of spin can wash off. Impeachment will be in the first paragraph of his obituary, just as it is now in the first paragraph of Bill Clinton’s Encyclopaedia Britannica entry.
No future president will want to be impeached, either. Thus, impeachment will lay down a marker for posterity: If a president solicits foreign help for his campaign, he will face severe retribution. Not to impeach Trump for such conduct will encourage more of it in the future. By the same reasoning, it is imperative for the articles of impeachment to include a few of Trump’s other, well-documented offenses — especially obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress — to send an unmistakable message to future officeholders that such conduct will not be tolerated, either.
This is one time when Congress must put aside political calculations — which are often off the mark anyway — and just do the right thing. Whatever voters think, history will vindicate those who (like Sens. Margaret Chase Smith during the McCarthy era and Sam Ervin during Watergate) stand up to blatant abuses of authority.