During his occupancy of the White House, Donald Trump has viewed his position as that of a Mafia Don who uses his office to threaten and harm opponents, enrich himself and his family, and who views the law and norms of behavior as something to be ignored, if not flagrantly violated. For his base, as long as he maintains his racist drumbeat and continues to throw favors and privileges to Christofascists, the fact that the Constitution is being subverted and criminal behavior is being normalized simply doesn't matter. Hopefully, a majority of Americans feel otherwise and will pay attention to the impeachment inquiry announced yesterday and support members of Congress who take their oaths of office seriously and hold fast to the concept that no one, including the president is above the law. An op-ed by a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings lays out why Trump needs to be impeached. Here are highlights:
For those of us who were there during Watergate, the Ukraine scandal is beginning to sound like an echo chamber.Multiple reports say that President Trump used his office to press Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and provide damaging information about him, though there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Mr. Biden’s part. This was a bid to affect the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, just as the Democratic National Committee headquarters break-in at the Watergate complex aimed to affect the 1972 presidential election.
Mr. Trump’s reported actions would amount to a Nixonian misuse of presidential power that threatens our democracy and constitutes high crime and misdemeanor. The Constitution is clear: A president who uses presidential powers for purely personal and political reasons, as Mr. Trump appears to have done, commits an impeachable offense.
Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have already acknowledged much of what has been reported about the Ukraine affair. On July 25, Mr. Trump spoke by phone with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and is said to have mentioned Mr. Biden eight times. It was not casual name dropping. Mr. Giuliani also spoke with Ukrainian officials at Mr. Trump’s direction starting last May, urging them to investigate Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump admits that about a week before the infamous phone call, he put nearly $400 million in congressionally appropriated military aid for Ukraine on hold. It was not released until Sept, 11, after news broke of a whistle-blower complaint about the Zelensky call, a complaint that the inspector general for the intelligence community found “credible” and “of urgent concern.” This strongly suggests there was no legitimate reason for the hold.
[A]n unredacted version of the complaint must be released, and since the transcripts Richard Nixon turned over to Congress were doctored, Congress should also demand a backup recording of the call. Assuming Mr. Trump refuses, Ukraine undoubtedly has a transcript and a recording. That recording could well be analogous to the Nixon White House tapes, which showed the president’s personal involvement in the cover-up, and Congress should request it immediately.
Like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump appears to have acted for his own personal political interests as opposed to a legitimate national interest. Mr. Nixon used his personal lawyer to pay hush money to the Watergate burglars. Mr. Trump used his personal attorney as the go-between with Mr. Zelensky, urging the Ukrainian president to work with Mr. Giuliani to investigate Mr. Biden.
Going through Mr. Giuliani says it all. If Mr. Trump had a shred of evidence against Mr. Biden or any legitimate governmental objective in view, he would have directed the Justice Department or State Department to work directly with Ukraine.
Holding up military assistance to coerce Ukraine into investigating Mr. Biden is itself a grave, impeachable abuse of power if done for personal and political reasons. The inspector general made a reference to a promise to a foreign leader in the whistle-blower’s complaint, though we don’t yet know what it was. If Mr. Trump promised to reward Ukraine with military aid for finding dirt on Mr. Biden, that could constitute bribery, a separate constitutional ground for impeachment.
It’s a violation of campaign finance law to solicit campaign help from a foreign country, as Mr. Trump knows well from the Russia collusion investigation. It’s also Nixonian.
Although we didn’t know this at the time of his impeachment, Mr. Nixon also secretly sought the help of a foreign government during his 1968 election campaign. Worried that the Vietnam peace treaty President Lyndon B. Johnson was pursuing would cause his defeat, Mr. Nixon sabotaged it by secretly promising South Vietnam it would do better under a Nixon presidency. It worked. The treaty talks failed, voters elected Mr. Nixon, and peace did not come for many more years.
As the legal commentator Benjamin Wittes noted last week on the website Lawfare, in addition to constituting abuse of power, pressuring Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son for political purposes violates their civil liberties. That also recalls Watergate, because Mr. Nixon violated the civil liberties of Daniel Ellsberg, who was being prosecuted for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Among the grounds for Nixon’s impeachment was his involvement in breaking into Mr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, seeking information to smear him.
Like Mr. Nixon’s, Mr. Trump’s reported actions demand impeachment — the one remedy to protect the rule of law, the rights of Americans and the integrity of our elections from a president bent on violating them. The framers created the impeachment power to safeguard democracy. It is Congress’s urgent responsibility to use it now.