If there was any doubt Trump was soliciting a bribe — a political favor for a political act — after the July 25 call and after acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney confessed to a quid pro quo, Trump called into “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning, promoting the thoroughly debunked Crowdstrike conspiracy theory and then confessing that is what he was asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate. “Well, that’s what the word is,” Trump said. “And that’s what I asked, actually, in my phone call, if you know. I mean, I asked him point-blank, because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption.”
He was repeatedly told that there is no evidence Ukraine conspired against him. It was his pathetic attempt to claim Russia had not assisted him in the 2016 election, but instead Ukraine had assisted Hillary Clinton. How that benefits anyone but Russian President Vladimir Putin is beyond me, but Trump’s interest in having Zelensky make one specific announcement that included the Biden investigation was in fact soliciting foreign help to promote his political agenda. As Sondland said, “There was a quid pro quo” — the meeting and aid were linked.
Trump could try to deny a quid pro quo if the condition he was placing on aid had been part of legitimate anti-corruption efforts. That, however, would require Trump to have shown interest in a single other aspect of Ukrainian corruption, to have told his foreign policy team that was what he was doing and to have said the words “corruption” during the two calls with Zelensky. In fact, his bag man Rudolph W. Giuliani was working with a corrupt former prosecutor to oust our corruption-fighting ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Was Trump setting out a legitimate condition in our national interest, or did no quid pro quo occur at all? It seems Republicans must choose, because the two theories are mutually exclusive.
So what other facts should the House need to proceed to impeachment? One theory is that it needs nothing more since the facts are undisputed. Another theory would be that the House needs to explain to the American people that definitive, entirely indisputable evidence of guilt resides in documents Trump controls and in witnesses he will not permit to testify; we therefore can assume it is incriminating. Whether the House chooses to pursue the matter of witness appearances in court or not, it seems the following additional steps are necessary:
- Formally enter into evidence Mulvaney’s confession and his lawyer’s letter smearing Hill but not denying the facts;
- In light of the statements denying sworn testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton (who thinks it is cute to pop up on Twitter but withhold sworn testimony), Energy Secretary Rick Perry (who is about to leave government) and Vice President Pence, send requests for them to appear to dispute evidence against them (e.g. Mulvaney put the hold on aid at Trump’s direction). If not, their silence will be taken as confirmation. (They will squawk, but this is being done for public education.);
- Invite Republicans to call witnesses who dispute those who have testified and to indicate where the whistleblower complaint diverges from live testimony and documents (it doesn’t in any meaningful way). Reissue the offer from the whistleblower to respond to questions in writing. Again, Republicans have nothing — zip, zero;
- Call any number of witnesses from the Obama-Biden administration to explain the policy Biden was carrying out in firing a prosecutor who was failing to investigate corruption, which players were corrupt (hint: the ones Giuliani was dealing with);
- Call Republicans’ bluff to demand they produce “witnesses” to the crackpot conspiracy theories they perpetrate; and
- Write up a five-page report (with a whole lot of appendices) to recite uncontroverted evidence and invite the minority to either produce evidence to contradict the evidence or stipulate to the facts.
In sum, it’s not up to Democrats to disprove the unprovable conspiracy theories or to produce evidence Trump won’t provide. That burden is on Republicans. The task is to make sure the public understands that the reason there is no exculpatory evidence is that there is none. In the Senate, the House managers presenting the case should ask for a stipulation on the facts. We know what happened. Now it’s time to compel Republicans to refute it or to condone it.