The basic charge from the House, according to the proposed articles of impeachment that House leaders released this morning, is that Trump used foreign policy for his own personal benefit. A related concern is that Trump systematically ignores professional advice to pursue a policy that damages America’s interests—for instance, by basing policy on unfounded conspiracy theories, including the discredited idea that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Read: What the Democrats consider impeachable
Impeachment is a political process, not just a legal one. The Senate’s responsibility is to assess the president’s fitness for office based on the charges and the evidence against him. The Senate must ask whether the wrongdoing revealed in the Ukraine episode is typical of the president’s approach and will worsen over time or whether it is an isolated incident and Trump is, for the most part, performing his duties as commander in chief responsibly. To put it another way, if the Senate acquits the president, will he see it as a permission slip to indulge in ever more inappropriate behavior, or has he learned his lesson?
These questions cannot be answered by cross-examining the witnesses who already testified in front of the House. They have told us what they know. The facts are clear and not in dispute. They cannot be answered by putting Hunter Biden on the stand. No one seriously believes the president was motivated by a desire to tackle corruption in Kyiv. Trump’s fitness to continue in office can be assessed only by a full audit of his approach to national security—by talking with people who served on his national-security team, including former National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and especially former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
This inquiry should not be geared toward embarrassing the president for mistakes made early in his tenure. The Senate must evaluate the trajectory of Trump’s presidency. Have things stabilized or are they getting worse? Is the aid-to-Ukraine scandal a sign of things to come?
Trump’s supporters have recognized that the broader foreign-policy context can affect the Senate’s decision. Writing in National Review at the beginning of the impeachment process, Andrew McCarthy, a former prosecutor who is a staunch defender of the president, wrote that while Trump’s decision to green-light Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s invasion of Kurdish-held areas of Syria “ostensibly …has nothing to do with the impeachment frenzy over Ukraine … Turkey’s aggression could crack the president’s impeachment firewall.” The Republican storm over Syria has passed, but long-term concern remains, expressed in hushed tones.
Bolton, who served as national security adviser under Trump and ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, recently gave a paid speech to a group of Morgan Stanley executives in Miami. He was asked what might happen if Trump is reelected. According to NBC News, which spoke with three attendees, “Bolton said Trump could go full isolationist—with the faction of the Republican Party that aligns with [Senator Rand] Paul’s foreign-policy views taking over the GOP—and could withdraw the U.S. from NATO and other international alliances.”