Keep it short, sweet, and impeach



December 10, 2019 - 10:07 AM

As Democrats finalize articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, they will be tempted to draw from his deep well of arguably impeachable behavior over the past three years. He paid mistresses for their silence to win an election, obstructed justice in the Russia investigation and blatantly monetized the presidency. Trump has epitomized the kinds of abuse of power and self-dealing the founders feared when they created the impeachment process.

Still, Democrats would be smart to keep the formal charges narrowly focused on Trump’s attempt to extort a vulnerable ally for his own political gain and his related obstruction of Congress. Impeachment is a constitutional process, but it’s also a political one, with public support being a necessary component. However justified wider-ranging charges might be, if it starts to look like Democrats are just piling on, they risk losing public support.

Scholars generally agree that the founders deliberately used open-ended language when establishing treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors as the criteria for a president’s impeachment and removal. It was their way of acknowledging they couldn’t predict every future scenario that might require this extreme remedy.

Who could have predicted, for example, that any president would take his oath so cavalierly as to suspend military aid that Congress had already approved for an ally — aid meant to oppose America’s most dangerous global foe — for the petty personal goal of scoring a campaign hit on a domestic political rival?

Yet that’s what the strong evidence indicates Trump did regarding Ukraine and the investigation Trump sought against former Vice President Joe Biden. Ukraine was desperate for the aid to fend off Russian military incursions. Further, Trump ordered White House officials to ignore congressional subpoenas in the Ukraine probe, withheld requested documents, and personally intimidated witnesses via his Twitter account. In one case, he engaged in such intimidation even as the witness was testifying. These are all clear instances of obstruction of Congress.

Trump has been obstructing justice in all kinds of ways ever since taking office, as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report made clear. Tempting as it might be to add other articles regarding his violation of the Emoluments Clause or other egregious acts, the most compelling case is one that focuses on the issues central to the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings and the obstruction issues related to that probe and the one Mueller led.

Trump has done much to merit removal from office, but his Ukraine scheme is the clearest of his infractions, risking the greatest potential harm to U.S. national security. It also happens to be among the easiest of his offenses to explain to the country. Democrats should explain it, avoid distractions and Trump defenders’ attempts as misdirection, and let the facts speak for themselves.