House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Thursday that the testimony of William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, “corroborated evidence of bribery” by Trump. Pelosi’s assessment, in my view, is an understatement. We heard evidence to substantiate at least three articles of impeachment.
There was indeed bribery, which is specifically cited in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment. Trump unilaterally held up the military aid, which had been approved by Congress, and conditioned its release on a public announcement by the Ukrainian president that he would launch a corruption investigation of Biden and his son Hunter.
Republicans seeking to defend Trump made much of the fact that the aid was eventually released — in the language of sports, “no harm, no foul.” But the release happened only after Congress had learned, from a whistleblower’s complaint, that the money had been held up. And it happened, as Taylor testified, just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to give a CNN interview in which he planned to announce an investigation of the Bidens. Ukrainian officials have said repeatedly that there was actually nothing to investigate.
The federal bribery statute does not require the corrupt exchange to be consummated. For a federal official to seek such a favor, in exchange for an official act, is a crime.
The second impeachable act we heard of at Wednesday’s hearing was abuse of power. Kent spent much of his opening statement explaining why U.S. policy under the past four presidents has been to support Ukraine against the existential threat posed by its more powerful neighbor, Russia. Taylor vividly described visiting the front lines where the Ukrainian military is fighting a shooting war against Russian-backed forces. Some of Trump’s loudest defenders in Congress have also been among the loudest to insist that holding the line against Russia in Ukraine is vital to U.S. national security.
To put our security at risk — by withholding the military aid — for personal political gain is a gross abuse of power and clear grounds for impeachment.
The third impeachable act Trump has committed, and continues to commit, is obstruction of Congress. Republicans complained that since neither Taylor nor Kent was in direct contact with Trump, the evidence they provided was “secondhand” or “hearsay.” In fact, both men were careful to describe only what they saw and heard, making a clear distinction between what they knew and what they surmised. But they appeared, under subpoena, despite Trump administration orders not to testify at all. The House would love to have acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others close to the president take a turn in the witness chair to give firsthand accounts of Trump’s actions. For some reason, Trump won’t let them.
The administration has made the outrageous decision to refuse to provide any documents or witnesses to a duly authorized inquiry by the House of Representatives. That is the haughty attitude of a king, not a public servant, and it clearly amounts to intolerable obstruction worthy of impeachment.
All of the above comes from a single public hearing.
In the coming days and weeks, we will learn more about the “drug deal,” as former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly called it, that Trump and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, were trying to arrange with Ukraine. We will learn more about the activities of Giuliani’s associates — Soviet-born business executives Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — charged with violating federal campaign finance laws. We will learn more about the role played by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who seems to be so forgetful that one hopes he remembers what day he’s supposed to testify. We will learn more about the phone conversation between Sondland and Trump that was overheard by a member of Taylor’s staff in a Kyiv restaurant, the day after Trump’s shakedown phone call with Zelensky.
History is in motion. Tweets and tantrums cannot stop it.