In late September, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said: “What would’ve been wrong is if the president had suggested to the Ukrainian government that if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid. That was the accusation; that did not remotely happen.” Since then, Graham has said he refuses to read the transcripts of testimony; he now insists he won’t watch the House hearings. One wonders whether he will put his fingers in his ears and hum during a Senate trial to remove President Trump.

Given what we now know, namely that Trump presented Ukraine with the ultimatum that Graham described, one can understand why Graham wants to avoid exposure to the facts.

As we get underway with public impeachment hearings, it will become problematic to listen to testimony that Trump held up aid to get dirt on the Bidens without reaching the conclusion that Trump did something very wrong.

In watching the hearings, here is what should be the focus: 1) Did Trump solicit help from a foreign power (“I would like you to do us a favor though...”) for help defeating a political rival? 2) Did he suspend aid to obtain that result?

If the first occurred, he committed an impeachable act. If both occurred, there is no scenario under which the Senate would be justified in allowing him to remain in office, where he would continue to seek foreign interference in our election and to undermine U.S. security for his own personal gains.

The Lawfare blog makes clear that the story in the transcripts that will now play out in live testimony is “the development of conditionality regarding a White House meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. ... [a]nd it came as well to involve demands that the Ukrainians investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his connection to the Ukrainian national gas company, Burisma, on whose board the younger Biden sat.” Specifically, William B. Taylor Jr., envoy to Ukraine, testified that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said “everything” — a meeting and aid — was conditioned on Ukraine’s public announcement that it was initiating an investigation of the Bidens. To use Graham’s words, the message was that “if you don’t do what I want you to do regarding the Bidens, we’re not going to give you the aid.”

Aside from throwing a fit and accusing Democrats of wrongdoing, Republicans can deny that the order to suspend the aid came from Trump (i.e. Sondland, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and/or Rudolph W. Giuliani were freelancing despite Giuliani’s public statements that he was working on Trump’s behalf), a preposterous explanation that still ignores Trump’s appeal for help in smearing the Bidens in the July 25 call. Alternatively, Republicans can argue that this kind of bribery, contrary to the constitutional language, does not justify impeachment.

We should therefore be on the lookout for evidence that Trump solicited a bribe (political dirt) from Ukraine, evidence that the order for the extortion (i.e. holding up aid) could only have come from Trump and evidence that Trump’s political ambition took priority over our national security interest, which required Ukraine get the aid promptly. All the rest is distraction. Watch the Republicans’ antics, but understand that they are no substitute for evidence.

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