If this in itself is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections.
The story may even be worse than we know. If Trump tried to use military aid to Ukraine as leverage, as reporters are now investigating, then he held Ukrainian and American security hostage to his political vendettas. It means nothing to say that no such deal was reached; the important point is that Trump abused his position in the Oval Office.
In this matter, we need not rely on a newspaper account, nor even on the complaint, so far unseen, of a whistle-blower. Instead, we have a sweaty, panicked admission on national television by Trump’s bizarre homunculus, Rudy Giuliani, that he did in fact seek such an investigation on Trump’s behalf. Giuliani later again confirmed Trump’s role, tweeting that a “President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.”
Let us try, as we always find ourselves doing in the age of Trump, to think about how Americans might react if this happened in any other administration. Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton had called his friend, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in 1996, and asked him to investigate Bob Dole. Or if George W. Bush had called, say, President Vicente Fox of Mexico in 2004 and asked him—indeed, asked him eight times, according to The Wall Street Journal—to open a case against John Kerry. Clinton, of course, was eventually impeached for far less than that. Is there any doubt that either man would have been put on trial in the Senate, and likely chased from office?
The Republicans, predictably, have decided to choose their party over their country, and the damage control and lying have begun. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, for one, has already floated the reliable “deep-state attack” nonsense that will play well on Fox and other conservative outlets. And while Giuliani did Trump no favors with his incoherent ranting on CNN, he did manage to hammer away at the idea that Biden, and not Trump, tried to shake down the Ukrainians while he was vice president.
The problem for Giuliani, the Republicans, and the president himself, however, is that Biden and his actions are now irrelevant to the offenses committed by Trump. The accusations against Joe Biden are false, as we know from multiple fact checks and from the Ukrainians themselves (which is why I won’t deign to repeat them here). But even to argue over this fable about Biden is to miss the point, because it changes nothing about Trump’s attempts to enmesh Biden in a foreign investigation for Trump’s own purposes.