More details remain to be uncovered. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that Trump used American aid to Ukraine as a lever in a quid pro quo. Ukrainian leaders were reportedly shocked to hear that Trump was holding up aid, and an official told the Daily Beast last week that Trump was seeking kompromat on Biden. Trump has not confirmed that, and has suggested he might release a transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (just after his hapless secretary of state said that would be inappropriate), but Democrats are demanding the whistle-blower complaint itself.
Yet the basic story is now out in the open, with Trump’s assistance, even as Democrats continue their probe into the complaint. Usually the drama of an investigation lies in finding out what happened, but the drama of this investigation lies in finding out what happens next. There’s hardly a need to ask what the president knew and when he knew it; Trump has told everyone. The question is what Democrats intend to do about it.
In theory, Trump’s admission ought to place him in a tight bind. The president makes it hard to defend himself when he’s already said he did it. (The administration’s response has been to claim misconduct by the Biden family, but there’s still no evidence to back that up, never mind the blatant hypocrisy of the accusation.) But Trump has seen that Republicans, both voters and crucially elected officials, have shown that practically no abuse is too much to bear.
Read: We’re now in the hot zone for impeachment
And he knows that Democrats have been too timid to act. The Democratic leadership of the House has pursued a strategy of moving just enough toward impeaching Trump that it can say it’s moving, but little enough that it can say it’s not impeaching him, and can run out the clock on his term.
There were signs of shifting attitudes among Democrats over the weekend. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, whose quest for the whistle-blower complaint set off the latest battle and who had been equivocal on impeachment, said that now it “may be the only remedy.” But Speaker Nancy Pelosi would say only that the revelations brought the House into “a whole new stage of investigation,” an extremely vague answer. Pelosi also told NPR that Congress should pass laws making clear that sitting presidents can be indicted—the latest sign that she would like to pass the buck of holding Trump accountable to someone else.
The Constitution provides a method for holding the president accountable: impeachment. But if House Democrats can’t be relied on to hold Trump accountable, surely neither can the same Justice Department that misled the public about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report in an attempt to soften its blow.
Yoni Appelbaum: The Mueller report is an impeachment referral