In late May, I called for an inquiry to determine whether President Donald Trump had committed impeachable offenses after he reacted to the Mueller report with a Mafia-style defense. He insisted that, while President, he could neither be investigated nor prosecuted, that he is empowered to ignore Congress, and declared that the Constitution allows him to do “whatever” he wants. Trump seems intent on breaking the law most days; on others, he breaks and divides America with hate speech.
Our inquiry now focuses on Trump’s shakedown of the president of Ukraine, a country under dire Russian threat and partial occupation. He did so in a call shortly after unilaterally and inexplicably suspending about $400 million in military assistance. A call memo indicates that in response to the Ukrainian president’s interest in acquiring additional U.S. weapons, Trump said: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” He wielded the full force of the presidency not to protect America, but solely to advance himself. Interfering with our national security – compromising the integrity of our elections – for personal gain represents an abuse of power and betrayal of his oath of office.
A stunned career U.S. official in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, texted the Trump-appointed EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, a major Trump donor, asking: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH [White House] meeting are conditioned on investigations?” In a separate text, Taylor wrote: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Earlier, discussing a White House visit, Sondland texted that “potus [sic] really wants this deliverable.” Sondland had no previous responsibilities for Ukraine, but Trump designated him a “fixer,” after firing the professional foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Ukraine. To prevent Sondland being questioned about his dirty work, Trump suddenly blocked him appearing with relevant texts and documents.
America learned about this wrongdoing only because of a courageous whistleblower, who also disclosed a cover-up with Administration “lock down” of the call memo. Hiding the President’s misconduct has apparently involved similar, previous cover-ups. While a Trump-appointed Inspector General described the whistleblower’s report as “urgent,” “credible,” and “most important,” the Administration defied the law by hiding it, with disclosure coming only after investigative reporting and the ensuing public outcry. Now, over 300 former national security professionals, Democratic and Republican, have challenged Trump for his “unconscionable abuse of power.”
Beyond the cover-up (and the cover-up’s cover-up) the President is making Stalinist threats – calling the source of these revelations a “spy,” invoking execution. Trump has called for “arrest for treason” of the House Intelligence Committee chair and even raised the specter of “civil war” and a “coup.” Such increasingly erratic and thuggish threats hardly suggest innocence.
Among the cascade of incriminating information are additional reports on the infamous 2017 invitation of Russians into the Oval Office. Trump not only welcomed personal election assistance from Russia but also invited more aggression as he has done more recently with Communist China. Additional damage may have occurred after excluding all staff from his Helsinki meeting with Putin.
If Sondland or any other administration had information exonerating Trump, we would be hearing it. Instead, Trump has claimed total impunity. Taking a hatchet to constitutional safeguards, he refuses to permit disclosure of any information to Congress, adopting a strategy of total obstruction – rejecting all subpoenas for witnesses and documents. As with Richard Nixon, such suppression represents a separate basis for impeachment.
Our reaction to this lawless president sets the precedent for any president, of either party, who threatens our democracy. We must act because of the danger from one, who has lied so much that, perhaps, he cannot tell right from wrong – cannot recognize the difference between his private gain and the public trust. His values are reflected in his reported request to shoot migrants in the knees and build a border moat filled with snakes and alligators. This is the conduct of an unhinged autocrat, not a self-described “stable genius,” with “great and unmatched wisdom.”
Impeachment of a president is a question of enormous magnitude – it’s not to be undertaken lightly, just because of disagreement or dislike. Under our Constitution, it is an essential tool to check abuse of presidential authority and ensure that a tyrant does not replace our carefully-crafted system of checks and balances. Our Founders did not intend for anyone to be above the law – certainly not the executive wielding the greatest power.
Responding to this unfit president with only strongly-worded press releases, rallies, and speeches is insufficient. Putting partisanship aside, only impeachment will preserve the rule of law. “If you see something, say something.” This simple advice does not just apply to the public at airports and large events, but to elected Republicans. Washington’s smallest club is Republicans who have found their voice.
Trump should be impeached for the crimes to which he has confessed: using your tax money for himself. When caught extorting a foreign country to interfere in our election, he first tried to cover it up, bragged about it, and did it again. The most incriminating evidence may come from the most compelling witness: President Trump himself, openly requesting foreign governments to interfere in our election for his personal benefit.
Our democracy will not long survive if foreign governments interfere in selecting our leaders, instead relying exclusively upon American citizens. Foreign influencers seek candidates to make them, not America, great again. Our presidential selection process traditionally begins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let’s not follow Trump’s crooked course to begin with foreign influence in Beijing, Kiev, and Moscow.