The United States is still the global superpower. An immoral person who views the public trust as a private weapon can use this power for extremely bad ends. Imagine, for example, if such a person told the Israeli prime minister that U.S. backing was contingent upon Israel using its vaunted security apparatus to obtain information on political rivals, thereby getting the Shin Bet to do what the CIA cannot. One can imagine that the temptation to manufacture such information even in its absence would be immense. Then imagine if such a person went not to one of our allies, but to one of our adversaries, with a similar request.
Trump die-hards will dispute this, saying the president’s request of Zelensky was justified because of the evidence that suggest something improper had been done, either by the Bidens or by Clinton operatives in 2016. That’s a legitimate argument, but it justifies only Trump narrowly asking for Ukrainian cooperation with an U.S.-led legal probe of the type Attorney General William P. Barr was already heading. It is not justification for the naked use of U.S. power for private ends, nor is it justification for pushing Ukraine to invoke its own prosecutorial power to supposedly unearth the truth.
No attempt to shift the focus to the alleged quid pro quo over the delivery of U.S. military aid diminishes this essential point. The latter, if it in fact occurred, is also inexcusable and an abuse of power. But the initial quid pro quo was independent of the alleged one pertaining to the aid, and it cannot and should not be swept under the rug.
As a practical matter, Republican voters — and therefore Republican members — will not decide that the president should be impeached and removed from office over either revelation. This is where the unceasing effort to take down Trump works against impeachment advocates. They do not come to this investigation with clean hands, and their manifest desire to find any plausible reason to remove Trump sullies their cause. Republicans will not give their avowed enemies the weapon with which to kill them.
Plus, Trump is running for reelection in less than a year’s time. Removing him in these circumstances would likely lead to an acceleration of the political hatred that is truly the most dangerous threat to our democracy.
Republican members of Congress should seek to do justice in all of its elements here. That could easily involve acquittal in the Senate, because all this does is put the final decision to the American people. But they should also act to both condemn what Trump has done and try to ensure that no other president is ever tempted to do something similar.
Republicans can also join Democrats to pass a law clearly making it a federal crime to provide or withhold a public benefit to a foreign government in exchange for information about a declared candidate for federal office. It does not matter if it is already implicitly a crime to do this; making it explicit sends a clear message to future perpetrators that this is beyond the pale.
Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine was reprehensible even if it does not lead to his removal. At some point, Republicans should recognize this and act.