Opinions

The case for impeachment

There is abundant evidence of the president’s abuse of power on Ukraine.

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The House of Representatives is moving toward a momentous decision about whether to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history. The charges brought against President Trump by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday are clear: that he abused his office in an attempt to induce Ukraine’s new president to launch politicized investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign, and that he willfully obstructed the subsequent congressional investigation.

Because of that unprecedented stonewalling, and because House Democrats have chosen to rush the impeachment process, the inquiry has failed to collect important testimony and documentary evidence that might strengthen the case against the president. Nevertheless, it is our view that more than enough proof exists for the House to impeach Mr. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, based on his own actions and the testimony of the 17 present and former administration officials who courageously appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

We believe Mr. Trump should receive a full trial in the Senate, and it is our hope that more senior officials will decide or be required to testify during that proceeding, so that senators, and the country, can make a fair and considered judgment about whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office. We have reserved judgment on that question. What is important, for now, is that the House determine whether Mr. Trump’s actions constituted an abuse of power meriting his impeachment and trial.

What follows is a summary of the evidence that we believe justifies charges against the president.

A White House meeting for investigations

According to testimony by State Department officials, a top priority of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following his election in April was obtaining a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. Mr. Trump, either directly or through his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, made the meeting contingent on an announcement by Mr. Zelensky of investigations into charges that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 presidential election, and that former vice president Joe Biden sought the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to aid his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Several State Department and National Security Council officials testified that there was no evidence to support either allegation. One, former NSC senior director Fiona Hill, said the election interference claim was a “fictional narrative” peddled by Russian intelligence agencies.

Mr. Trump’s actions were an abuse of his presidential powers. He used his official authority — the granting of an Oval Office meeting — to obtain a personal benefit: mud he could sling at a likely opponent in the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump set the stage for the trade-off on May 23, when during a White House meeting with a U.S. delegation that had attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, he rejected appeals to meet Mr. Zelensky and instead instructed the officials present to “talk to Rudy.” For months, Mr. Giuliani had been publicly calling for the Biden and 2016 election investigations. Two State Department officials, Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, subsequently communicated extensively with Mr. Giuliani and Ukrainian officials in an effort to broker the quid pro quo, both before and after a July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky.

Volker: “Good lunch – thanks. Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow - kurt”
Source: The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Dec. 2019, page 96.

Source: The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, December 2019, Page 96.

Just before that phone call, Mr. Sondland spoke to Mr. Trump, then called Mr. Volker. Mr. Volker then texted this message to Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Mr. Zelensky: “Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”

The rough transcript of the phone call shows that Mr. Zelensky got the message. At the end of it, he thanked Mr. Trump for a previous invitation to Washington, then said, “I also want to ensure you that we will . . . work on the investigation” of 2016 and Mr. Biden, which Mr. Trump had raised as “a favor.” Mr. Trump responded: “Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House. . . . Give us a date and we’ll work that out.”


Zelensky: “I also want to ensure you that we will...work on the investigation”
Trump: “Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House....Give us a date and we’ll work that out.”
Source: Page 5 of the memorandum of telephone conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, on July 25, 2019.

Source: Page 5 of the memorandum of telephone conversation between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on July 25, 2019.

As negotiations continued in the following weeks, Mr. Giuliani demanded that Mr. Zelensky make a public statement announcing the investigations in order to obtain a meeting date. Mr. Trump also insisted in another phone call with Mr. Sondland that Mr. Zelensky “go to a microphone.” Mr. Giuliani rejected a draft Ukrainian statement that did not specifically mention the Biden-linked gas company, Burisma, and the 2016 election.

An Aug. 10 text from Mr. Yermak to Mr. Sondland was explicit about the trade-off: “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announce upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling investigations.”

Yermak: “Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations.”
Source: Gordon D. Sondland’s opening statement before the United States House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nov. 20, 2019, page 10.

Source: Gordon D. Sondland’s opening statement before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nov. 20, 2019, Page 10.

The Ukrainians eventually told Mr. Volker they were not comfortable making a statement that directly referenced U.S. domestic matters. Mr. Zelensky never announced the investigations — and he has yet to visit the White House.

A hold on military aid

The Office of Management and Budget placed a hold on $391 million in military aid to Ukraine on July 12 on Mr. Trump’s orders, and it remained in place until Sept. 11, long after an interagency review unanimously concluded it should be released. State and Defense Department officials testified that they were never given an explanation for the hold, and there is no direct testimony about the president’s motive. But four senior officials, including Mr. Sondland, two top diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and the senior official for Europe at the National Security Council, concluded that the aid was linked to the demand for investigations.

More to the point, Mr. Sondland told both Mr. Yermak and Mr. Zelensky that the aid would not be released unless the investigations were announced. He spoke to Mr. Zelensky after a phone call with Mr. Trump. Contrary to Republican assertions, the Ukrainians learned of the hold on the aid early on; their first inquiry to the State Department came on July 25, the same day as the Trump-Zelensky phone call. They felt extreme pressure; the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, William B. Taylor Jr., described them as “very concerned” and “desperate.”

It is likely that senior aides whom Mr. Trump has prevented from testifying, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, could recount conversations that clarify Mr. Trump’s intention; Mr. Mulvaney already appeared to confirm in a news conference that the hold was linked to the demand for investigations. What we know is that Mr. Trump released the funds six days after this Editorial Board reported he was using them to pressure Mr. Zelensky, and two days after three House committees announced they would investigate the charge.

Some Republicans argue that since Mr. Trump released the aid, no harm was done. But U.S. officials testified that there has been extensive damage to U.S.-Ukrainian relations — to Russia’s benefit. Mr. Volker testified: “It’s a tragedy for the United States and for Ukraine that our efforts in this area, which were bearing fruit, have now been thrown into disarray.”

Obstruction of Congress

We take no pleasure in recommending the president’s impeachment and are aware of the considerable costs and risks: further dividing and inflaming our politics; turning impeachment into one more tool of partisan warfare; perhaps giving Mr. Trump unwarranted aid in his reelection effort. But the House must make its decision based on the facts and merits, setting aside unpredictable second-order effects.

That is particularly true because, unlike any previous president, Mr. Trump has refused all cooperation with the congressional inquiry. He has prevented the testimony of a dozen present or former senior officials and the release of documents by the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and three Cabinet departments.

The House Intelligence Committee’s report rightly warns that “this unprecedented campaign of obstruction” poses a serious threat to U.S. democracy. “The damage to our system of checks and balances . . . will be long-lasting and potentially irrevocable if the President’s ability to stonewall Congress goes unchecked.

Congress prepared an article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon for a less comprehensive refusal to cooperate. Mr. Trump’s actions demand that Congress again act to protect a foundation of U.S. democracy.

More from Opinions:

Sergio Peçanha: The Trump impeachment inquiry, told with maps and dancing Rudys

Dana Milbank: Trump just assured his own impeachment

Ruth Marcus: For impeachment, quick and narrow is the way to go

Marc A. Thiessen: Democrats’ impeachment obsession is backfiring

Sign up to receive editorials like these in your inbox six days a week

Credits: Editorial Board

We noticed you’re blocking ads!

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker. Or purchase a subscription for unlimited access to real news you can count on.
Unblock ads
Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us