The Republican defenses for the indefensible conduct of President Trump in connection with the Ukraine scandal have gone roughly like this:

  • The July 25 call was perfect.
  • The president was kidding when, on the White House driveway, he invited interference of foreign powers.
  • Well, there was no quid pro quo.
  • There may have been a quid pro quo — but the good type. There’s no corrupt intent.
  • The process stinks; release the transcripts.
  • We aren’t reading the transcripts so I don’t know anything about a corrupt quid pro quo.
  • We cannot tell you whether soliciting a foreign government’s help in winning an election is wrong.

With the disclosure of four transcripts (one revised) from witnesses with direct knowledge of what occurred, the procession of ludicrous excuses increasingly seems like an act of desperation by a party no longer able to defend a president based on undisputed facts. They put their fingers in their ears, start humming and close their eyes, as though the entire escapade will disappear if they ignore it — or lie about what transcripts lay out in black and white.

We have multiple witnesses’ testimony, now including that of the hapless Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, who has recovered his memory of explicitly relating to Ukraine what amounts to a bribe (or extortion if you prefer): The aid voted upon by Congress and needed for Ukraine’s defense will not be released until a member of the Ukraine government publicly announces an investigation into Burisma (the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat).

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We know this was not simply about a general corruption review because statements that excluded specific mention of Biden— son of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden — and Burisma were rejected. The statement had to include Burisma (meaning the Bidens) and the loony conspiracy theory likely peddled by Paul Manafort that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election. The public statement had to help Trump’s reelection effort by specifically mentioning both. (In essence, Sondland helped draft a ransom note to be read on TV.)

As the Biden campaign framed it in a written statement:

Donald Trump's ambassador to the European Union, who was at the center of what his own national security adviser at the time described as a 'drug deal' with Ukraine, has now testified under oath that there was indeed a quid pro quo arranged by the president to extort a foreign country into spreading universally-debunked lies about Vice President Joe Biden.
This comes after the White House’s top Ukraine expert, a decorated Army colonel and Iraq veteran, similarly testified that he believed the president was perpetrating a quid pro quo.

The notion that no one thought there was a problem with tying aid to the feverish conspiracies Trump saw as essential to his reelection has been debunked over and over again. Former national security adviser John Bolton blew up over what he derisively referred to as a “drug deal.” His subordinate, Fiona Hill reported the Biden dirt-for-aid scenario to a National Security Council lawyer. The NSC’s lawyer was so alarmed that he stashed the “perfect" phone call transcript in a secret server. Kurt Volker, the now-former special envoy to Ukraine, strenuously objected to tying political favors for Trump to U.S. aid. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, listening in on the July 25 call, knew the dirt-for-aid arrangement was wrong and possibly illegal. Sondland knew it “was bad”; he let on, "I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know the law exactly. It doesn’t sound good.”

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When a politician demands a private benefit (opposition research for a politician’s private use) in exchange for performing public act (releasing aid), that is called soliciting a bribe. That sort of mixing private gain with public conduct is precisely the definition of corruption. It is this sort of corrupt dealing that the impeachment clause in the Constitution contemplated when it refers to “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

As Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Paper No. 65: “The subjects of [an impeachment trial’s] jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

If U.S. senators cannot listen attentively to a mound of factual evidence that has yet to be contradicted by witnesses or documents, and/or cannot conclude that soliciting political assistance from a foreign country in exchange for release of aid in our own national security interest, they cannot claim the moral authority to retain power. The facts are the facts, the Constitution is unambiguous. It is time to choose: Defend the Constitution or defend Trump.

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