As a Republican who has watched partisan politics play out in Washington for over two decades, I’m sympathetic to the argument that Democrats wanted to impeach President Donald Trump since the day he was inaugurated. However, it was just as certain to me that he would eventually do something to justify impeachment. And early appearances suggest he has.
At best, President Trump used his office to seek personal and political gain and engage in 2016 conspiracy peddling with a strategic ally engaged in a war with Russia. At worse, Trump held back military aid to Ukraine in order to extract this personal and political gain. It’s a difference without a distinction when it comes to his fitness to serve.
The military assistance, authorized by the Congress, was unilaterally held back by Trump, with no coordination with the National Security Council or the Office of Management and Budget, according to the IG’s report. Based on these revelations and what President Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have publicly admitted, an impeachment investigation is warranted.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s how Trump-appointed Inspector General Michael Atkinson put it: “I am deeply concerned that the actions described… constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or Executive Order.’”
Atkinson continues: “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
His report details the efforts made by Trump’s staff to hide the contents of his call and cover up politically sensitive material using national security designations. It recounts how meetings with top officials, Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump himself were used as rewards for doing these favors. It relies on substantiating statements from Trump White House officials.
Atkinson and the Trump-appointed Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, referred these matters to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. DOJ chose not to proceed but the current Attorney General, William Barr, is indicated as involved in this scheme by the White House’s own memo describing the phone call with Zelensky.
If this is a witch hunt, it’s one coming from inside the White House. If all of this doesn’t warrant a serious congressional investigation and impeachment inquiry, nothing does.
I understand the corner Republicans find themselves in. Democrats have rushed to judgment before and have an ax to grind. They have cried impeachment at the most minor offenses. The Mueller Report was damaging, but not to the degree it was hyped beforehand. The electorate is polarized, and you can’t win a primary by calling for the impeachment or removal of a very popular party leader, president, and the likely 2020 nominee.
Democrats will chastise Republicans to put country and principles first, but nothing Republicans ever do short of voting for removal will ever be enough to satisfy them. Going out on a limb becomes a very lonely exercise, and possibly a career-ending one for some.
But at this time, on this issue, it is the right thing to do. Members of Congress can be judicious and tempered, appealing for more information and scrutiny, but they should not defend these actions or write them off as unserious or partisan.
What President Trump did was wrong, in the best circumstances. And the Republican Party will be a shell of itself moving forward if it cannot say as much.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a tough job ahead herself. Blood is in the water. Her party’s base will not accept anything short of impeachment at this point. Which is why her initially reported instinct to form a Select Committee was a smart decision that she should have stuck with. This will become a circus, one that the leadership may well will lose control of as committee chairs each look for their personal scalp.
But the tougher road remains on the right side of the aisle. Republicans know in their heart of hearts that Trump is more than capable of embarrassing them. He has one care in the world, and it his his personal survival. They have to ask themselves, if this conduct in office is acceptable, what is not acceptable?
The talking point will be that this overturns the 2016 election. Well, that is an argument against impeachment itself, not in defense of this conduct. Vice President Pence was also on the ballot in 2016 and would duly take over in a scenario where Trump was removed from office.
Republicans will make this all about Vice President Biden and make this a he-said-he-said situation. Gotta see both sides. Sure our guy crossed some lines, but look over there. And let me tell you: None of that matters.
Even if you think Joe Biden did something abusive to his office—I frankly don’t right now—there are legal channels to pursue. Under no circumstances was this the appropriate course of action, for the president of the United States to press a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a domestic political enemy. There is no justification for this.
Another argument is that the Senate isn’t going to remove him anyway, so let’s wait for 2020 and let voters sort this out. This may be the eventual outcome. But it’s jumping a few steps ahead. A credible investigation may turn up enough evidence to move public opinion, build political courage, and change the game.
So let’s look at 2020 another way. I received a text from a veteran Democratic strategist recently who said, “It’s going to suck when this scandal gets blown wide open, impeachment is likely, and we end up running against Nikki Haley.”
The Republican Party was always going to need to turn the page from Trumpism. Maybe we should start sooner, rather than later.