This is the very crime of which our founders were most afraid; it’s the paradigmatic impeachable offense, the one impeachment was included in our Constitution to protect against; and we already have all of the evidence we need to prove it. In fact, we’ve had the goods since Sept. 24, when Trump released an edited transcript which he has claimed is “perfect” and “beautiful,” even though it’s perfectly and beautifully impeachable.
Instead of becoming bogged down in the House Intelligence Committee’s 300-page report, which basically no Americans will read in its entirety, Democrats should focus in on that five-page transcript. Because if every American knew what was said in that conversation, and understood its implications, there’s no doubt Trump would be impeached.
On July 25, during a roughly 30-minute phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, our commander in chief engaged in not one, but two acts of bribery — one of the only high crimes, along with treason, specifically delineated by our Constitution.
The first came when Zelensky mentioned wanting to purchase Javelin antitank missiles from the United States — so his country could better defend itself from Russian tanks crossing the country’s eastern border. Trump’s response was as simple as it was incriminating: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”
This favor, Trump went on to explain, consisted of opening two investigations: One into a long-debunked conspiracy theory surrounding the 2016 election, and another into former vice president Joe Biden and his family. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son,” Trump said. “A lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.”
This is about as blatant a quid pro quo offer as you will find. That’s why, shortly after the transcript was released, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was read Trump’s “I would like you to do us a favor, though” quote by Scott Pelley of CBS News, he denied its existence.
“You just added another word,” McCarthy said. “No, it’s in the transcript,” Pelley responded. “He said — ‘I’d like you to do a favor though?” McCarthy asked, incredulous. “Yes,” Pelley responded once more, “it’s in the White House transcript.”
The reason McCarthy refused to accept that Trump said those words is because he knew they fit the definition of solicitation to a T. Nobody literally says “Here’s a bribe,” but “I would like you to do us a favor, though” is about as close as it gets.
And Trump didn’t stop there. Later in the phone call, he engaged in a second quid pro quo — promising a White House visit in direct response to Zelensky pledging to “work on the investigation.” That, we later learned from texts exchanged by Trump’s appointees, was a prearranged deal; Zelensky would only be allowed to visit the White House if he promised to open the investigations. Which is, once again, about as cut-and-dry a quid pro quo as you will ever find.
Not a single appointee who has testified before Congress — including Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a donor who Trump has called a “great American” — has denied the existence of these quid pro quo exchanges. Even Mulvaney has conceded that Trump engaged in quid pro quos, claiming arrangements like these happen “all the time with foreign policy.”
But we didn’t need these witness accounts, and we didn’t need the day-long contemplation of constitutional law that we got on Tuesday. Because Trump’s solicitations of bribes are right there in the document released by the White House. The transcript is the smoking gun. Trump may even realize that himself: He attempted to explain away the “do us a favor” line in a tweet late Wednesday night, saying “with the word ‘us’ I am referring to the United States, our Country.”
This is not to say there haven’t been revelations over the course of the House investigation. Indeed, almost every day, we’re finding out new ways in which Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, acting as his personal lawyer, pressured Ukraine into investigating Biden. Nor is it to say that Trump couldn’t also be guilty of additional high crimes. Specifically, his efforts to obstruct Congress’s investigation into his conduct aren’t only impeachable, they’re unprecedented: Even Nixon’s administration was more transparent than this one.
But when Democrats spend their time trying to explain the limits of executive privilege to the American people — or when they focus on new revelations — it can seem like they’re still searching for evidence, like there’s still some kind of mystery. But in reality, we’ve known the truth for months: Trump’s conduct during his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, alone, provided Congress with clear grounds for impeachment.
As a member of Congress explained in 2008, “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” The congressman who said that was a backbencher from Indiana, who went on to become vice president.
Mike Pence was right: Our founders included impeachment in the Constitution so we could remove any president guilty of “the abuse or violation of some public trust,” as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 65. That’s exactly what Trump did in his “perfect” phone call with Zelensky. And it’s more than sufficient reason to remove him from office — no matter what we find out next.