Judging by the evidence we have before us, the House of Representatives should impeach President Trump, and the Senate should remove him from office.
The newly released transcript of Trump’s call with incoming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows Trump abusing his office in multiple ways. This is especially evident when considering the context of other actions already acknowledged by either Trump or his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
I’ve argued in prior columns that the very involvement of the president in urging a foreign government to criminally investigate a U.S. citizen never charged under U.S. law is extremely problematic. When the targeted citizen is his chief political rival, or the rival’s son, it’s worse. Even worse is when the president’s own lawyer says a major goal of the pressure on the foreign government is so that the rival “didn’t become president without having to answer” for his Ukrainian dealings.
The president is using his office to pressure a foreign government to harass an American citizen for political reasons.
Trump defenders say the transcript shows no quid pro quo. For starters, an impeachable offense requires no quid pro quo. Nevertheless, the transcript bolsters what plenty of supplementary evidence already made evident: The quid and quo were not just vaguely implicit, but very strongly implicit, especially in light of actions preceding and following it. A proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” remains a demand even if it’s not explicitly delineated then and there.
Start with the context. The president already had tasked Giuliani with repeated attempts to convince Ukraine to reopen the investigation into Biden that many American analysts already had pronounced as “repeatedly disproved” and “baseless.” The president already had ignored the clear intent of U.S. law, along with the counsel of most of his top advisers, when he ordered the delay of American military assistance to Ukraine — a delay which would soon become readily apparent. The predicate already was set: Trump wanted Biden investigated, and Trump personally controlled the aid.
Now review the transcript. After the usual pleasantries, Trump’s very first segue into substantive discussion was this: “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time.” Trump noted that European nations don’t do as much. This was his way of saying Ukraine really needs us, because nobody else is there for it. Then he says Ukraine has not “been reciprocal necessarily.”
So now he has talked about U.S. support in general, and about how Ukraine should be more “reciprocal.” To which, Zelensky agreed and then immediately moved to discussion of our “great support in the area of defense.”
Directly in response to that — directly — Trump said this: “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.” He then immediately began talking about the first of the two issues Giuliani already had been pressing with Ukraine, namely some alleged Ukrainian involvement in the earlier Russia-collusion imbroglio.
The Ukrainian took the hint, specifically bringing up Giuliani and then again mentioning the nations’ “strategic partnership” (diplomat-speak for military alliance) and promising that “the investigations” desired by Giuliani “will be done openly and candidly.”
To which, Trump immediately began talking about the Ukrainian prosecutor dismissed after Joe Biden’s urging. (Trump ludicrously said the prosecutor, who almost the entire world has concluded was corrupt, was “very good.”) Then Trump was off and running, at considerable length, about the need to investigate Biden, and about his desire for Ukraine to cooperate with Giuliani in doing so.
To review: Zelensky wanted military assistance. Trump’s immediate reply was to ask for “a favor.” The favor was the investigation of Biden. Quid. Pro. Quo.