Blog Post # 10: Articles of Impeachment
December 17, 2019
Articles of Impeachment have been finalized in the case against President Donald J. Trump. House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have settled on two charges and are scheduled to vote on Wednesday. The almost certain result is a vote to impeach, strictly along party lines. Following that likely occurrence, the president’s fate will be determined in a trial held by the Senate. Trump and a number of co-conspirators have admitted that nearly $400 million in military aid was withheld from Ukraine while they attempted to get the country to investigate Joe Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory. Votes in the upper and lower houses of Congress are expected to be partisan. Much of the case’s substance has already been presented for public consumption. The proceedings may be lacking in suspense but are hardly insignificant as they could have great impact in the near and distant future.
Article 1 – Abuse of Power
This is not a statuary criminal offense per se. Nor is ‘’abuse of power’’ mentioned in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment. However, bribery, treason, high crimes and other misdemeanors are listed as impeachable offenses. Each would be considered an abuse of power, and each, without embellishment could be used to describe Trump’s transgressions. Additionally, as current Trump sycophant, Lindsey Graham put so eloquently in 1998: ‘’You don’t have to commit a crime to lose your job in this Constitutional Republic… impeachment isn’t about punishment… impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.’’
While the quote resonates today, the first article against Trump is more substantive than a noble ideal. Donald Trump, in conjunction with Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget put a hold on $391 million in Congressionally approved aid to Ukraine. In the redacted transcript of the July 25th phone call between he and Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky, Trump asked the newly-minted leader to investigate political rival, Joe Biden and the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. He has since doubled down on these requests by asking Ukraine as well as China to investigate the Biden’s on the White House lawn. Corruption is no less problematic when it takes place in plain sight.
The President’s defenders in the House have sought to dismiss the notion that any link exists between the freeze on aid and the requested investigations. The aid was released, no investigation was announced, and the Ukrainians never knew about the hold. This has been a popular refrain for Trump supporters involved in the inquiry. This specious reasoning ignores intention as well as key evidence. Aid was indeed released. It was released as the fiscal year was set to expire, a complaint about the withholding of aid had been filed by a whistle-blower, and as Congress announced its plans to investigate Rudy Giuliani and the unexplained halt on the security assistance.
The idea that the Ukrainians did not know about the freeze on aid is directly contradicted by Deputy Secretary Assistant of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper. Cooper testified before the House Intelligence Committee that members of her staff received inquiries about the aid from Ukrainian officials on July 25th, the same day as the Trump-Zelensky phone call.
It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that President Trump attempted to use his office for his personal benefit at the expense of the American people. That he was unsuccessful doesn’t make his offenses any less egregious.
Article 2 – Obstruction of Congress
Checks and balances between co-equal branches of government are paramount to a functioning democracy. The sole power of impeachment rests in the House. It is their purview alone to investigate malfeasance within the Executive Branch and hold those responsible accountable. A president does not get to tell off Congress because he doesn’t like his conduct scrutinized. The subpoenas for documents and witnesses issued by Congress were legitimate and well within their right to demand in furtherance of their investigation. Trump is unambiguously guilty of this offense. It is his prerogative to not actively participate in the process of impeachment. It is not his prerogative to stonewall the House of Representatives and order his subordinates to defy lawfully issued subpoenas. This is not the conduct of a president, but of a would-be autocrat who believes himself immune from investigation.
On a different, but not unrelated note, ordering Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton not to testify looks more like damage control than anything else. Damning testimony was provided from government officials who could not be kept from the witness stand, most of whom were on the peripheral of the pay-for-play scheme. Given that, it seems far more likely that Trump ordered the most key players in the Ukraine saga to stay away, not because he felt the process was illegitimate, but because he knew and feared what they might say. When Trump defenders argue there isn’t enough in the articles to impeach a president, his own obstruction contributed to the perceived absence of evidence.
The Need for Accountability
America’s Founding Father’s wanted a system of government that would prevent any one branch from gaining an inordinate amount of power. They’d just rid the new nation of a monarchy and took pains to ensure there would never be another one. They also recognized that someone would come along to threaten that delicate balance, and impeachment was the remedy they prescribed. The framers of the US Constitution were invoked numerous times through the initial phases of the House impeachment inquiry; usually in reference to an individual who would subvert democracy through unchecked power. It hardly strains credulity to think Donald Trump is exactly the type of individuals the framers had in mind.
Since his inauguration in 2017, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated a disdain and/or lack of understanding of crucial components of American democracy. Last year, when Congress refused to allocate $8 billion in funds for his long-promised Border Wall, he shut down the government. When Saturday Night Live mocked him, he suggested that libel laws be reexamined and seemed to think the First Amendment had not been challenged in court. He has persistently attacked a free press as an ‘’enemy of the people’’. He has publicly insulted long-standing allies while fawning over despots such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan and Kim Jong Un. He authored the quote ‘’then I have an Article 2, which says I can do anything I want as president.’’ This abridged list of the president’s autocratic leanings demonstrates that the man has little respect and less understanding of the guiding principles of our system of government.
None of this is to suggest that what Trump has done in regard to Ukraine is not bad in and of itself. Ukraine is a vulnerable ally amid a five-year conflict on its home turf. Russia is an adversary of the United States. President Putin seeks to re- establish Russia as a global superpower. It was to this end that Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and has supported Russian friendly fighters in a territorial dispute in Eastern Ukraine. ‘’Russia seeks to undermine core institutions of the West such as NATO, the EU and to weaken faith in the democratic, free-market system’’ per the US State Department’s own website. The sides are clear. Ukraine receives US dollars to support their nascent democracy and fight advances from Moscow. Trump spit in the face of an ally while delivering a boost to the Kremlin, all in the name of scoring cheap political points. If that doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment, what does?
Odds of Removal in The Senate Trial
For all the Republicans calling the impeachment process a sham, the party is doing everything possible to ensure that the Senate Trial is just that. Mitch McConnell, who as Senate Majority Leader is essentially the jury foreman, has already admitted to corrupting the process. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the six-term Kentucky Senator said there is ‘’zero chance’’ Trump is removed from office and that he’s ‘’coordinating everything [he] does with the White House.’’ Calls to recuse himself are certain to go unheeded. In a civilian criminal case, such efforts would result in a mistrial and possible jail time for the juror responsible.
The odds of removal were always lower than they were for impeachment. Twice in American history has an impeached president been brought before a Senate Trial and each time the Senate failed to deliver the two-thirds majority vote necessary for removal from office. Public opinion is split fairly evenly as to whether Trump should be impeached and subsequently removed from office. McConnell’s ‘’zero percent’’ quote is not likely a true probability of Trump’s removal but speaks loudly to the overwhelming odds against his conviction. Republicans are the majority in the Senate, with a 53-47-member advantage. Assuming 47 Democrats vote to convict Trump, 20 GOP members would also have to be persuaded to do the same. 20 defections, while not impossible, is exceedingly unlikely. A number of Senate Republicans are up for re-election in 2020 in states where Trump enjoys strong support and fear his cyber retribution. For almost three years Trump’s allies in Congress have regularly been put in a position to defend the indefensible. In that time, it has been made clear that most of them value their jobs over their concern for their country’s well-being. At this juncture it is difficult to envision 20 Republicans having the change of heart necessary to vote their conscience before the Senate trial.
Photo by Samantha Sophia