Republicans say that, since Ukraine eventually received the military aid that Mr. Trump withheld, and never launched the investigations he demanded of former vice president Joe Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election, there was no offense. That’s like arguing that, if an armed robber flees the bank he is holding up before getting any money, he should be excused. Mr. Trump released the hold on aid to Ukraine only after Congress announced an investigation.
Moreover, there was harm. The episode damaged U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Instead of supporting Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, as he sought to fend off Russian aggression, Mr. Trump signaled to both the Ukrainians and Vladimir Putin that the United States was an unreliable ally.
The Ukrainians never felt pressured.
Republicans base this claim on a statement Mr. Zelensky made as he sat alongside Mr. Trump at the United Nations in September. But considerable evidence suggests it was a diplomatic white lie. Reporting by the Associated Press shows the Ukrainian president was concerned about the pressure for investigations as far back as May. Testimony by U.S. diplomats and text messages they exchanged with Mr. Zelensky’s aides show the Ukrainians’ deep unease about being drawn into U.S. politics.
Mr. Trump was genuinely concerned about Ukrainian corruption.
Republicans say the president was looking for proof that the new Ukrainian administration would promote the rule of law. But Mr. Trump never used the word “corruption” in two phone calls with Mr. Zelensky. When the Ukrainians offered a statement pledging corruption probes, it was rejected by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Instead, he insisted specifically on the investigation of Mr. Biden and the 2016 election.
There was good reason to seek an investigation of Ukraine’s role in the election and of Hunter Biden’s board membership in a Ukrainian gas company.
Republicans have cited reports that Ukrainian officials sought to damage Mr. Trump’s campaign. But three senior U.S. officials have testified that there is no evidence to back the allegations. Ukrainian and U.S. officials have also said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The conspiracy theory raised by Mr. Trump, about Ukraine rather than Russia hacking the Democratic National Committee, was promoted by Mr. Putin; it was debunked by Mr. Trump’s own homeland security adviser.
Mr. Trump signed off on weapons deliveries that President Barack Obama refused to approve.
Republicans claim that Mr. Obama provided Ukraine only with “blankets.” In fact, he approved extensive non-lethal military aid, such as counter-battery radars. While Mr. Trump authorized a limited supply of antitank missiles, when Mr. Zelensky asked to buy more, Mr. Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” and then demanded the investigations.
White House policymaking was too chaotic to seek a specific quid pro quo.
This is the latest rationale from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). But what has emerged from the testimony is a highly focused campaign to seek political investigations that extended for six months, through two Ukrainian governments, monitored by Mr. Trump personally. Republicans may argue that Mr. Trump’s actions were wrong but not worthy of impeachment. What they can’t credibly claim is that he did not know what he was doing.