GUEST BLOG / By the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board--The House of Representatives’ inquiry into President Trump’s actions on Ukraine is not yet complete, but the evidence produced over the last two months is more than sufficient to persuade us that he should be impeached. Witness after witness testified that the president held up desperately needed, congressionally approved aid to Ukraine to extort a personal political favor for himself. In so doing, Trump flagrantly abused the power of his office.
The Times’ editorial board was a reluctant convert to the impeachment cause. We worried that impeaching Trump on essentially a party-line vote would be divisive. It is also highly likely that Trump would be — will be — acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate, and that, rightly or wrongly, he would point to that in his reelection campaign as exoneration.
But those concerns must yield to the overwhelming evidence that Trump perverted U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain. That sort of misconduct is outrageous and corrosive of democracy. It can’t be ignored by the House, and it merits a full trial by the Senate on whether to remove him from office.
The story began with release of a reconstructed transcript of the notorious July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden (a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in 2020) and to shore up a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The document vindicated the unnamed whistleblower who’d asserted that multiple officials had reported that Trump “sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the president’s 2020 reelection bid.”
Then a parade of current and former government officials who testified before the House Intelligence Committee established that Trump’s call was part of a larger effort to condition a White House meeting with Zelensky and the release of the aid on an announcement by Zelensky that he would initiate the specific investigations desired by Trump.
As constitutional experts testified before the Judiciary Committee, the framers of the Constitution had just such self-dealing in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause.
In announcing her support for articles of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said that Congress must act because Trump “has engaged in abuse of power undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.” Reasonable people can disagree over whether arming Ukraine in its conflict with Russia serves U.S. foreign policy interests, and it is also true, as the GOP has repeatedly argued, that — in the wake of the whistleblower’s complaint and pressure by Congress — the security assistance for Ukraine was eventually released.
But none of that exonerates Trump of abusing his office, apparently to obtain a benefit for himself. And if the president was willing in this case to subvert U.S. foreign policy for personal and political gain, why wouldn’t he feel emboldened to do it again? The president, after all, continues to maintain that his call with Zelensky was “perfect.”
Any articles of impeachment approved by the House will act as the political equivalent of an indictment, setting forth specific instances of misconduct; the Senate would then convene a trial to decide whether Trump should be expelled from the presidency. It’s obvious that at least one article should cite Trump’s improper approaches to Ukraine, whether they are described as “bribery” (an offense specifically mentioned in the Constitution’s impeachment clause) or abuse of power. A separate article would be warranted for his outrageous efforts to obstruct Congress by keeping information from the impeachment inquiry.
Finally, we continue to believe that the House should consider an article of impeachment addressing the actions Trump took to thwart or hobble special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but neither did he exonerate the president. Atty. Gen. William Barr and then-Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” But in deciding whether Trump’s attempted interference amounted to an impeachable offense, Congress could well come to a different conclusion. And the allegation that Trump obstructed justice in the Mueller investigation involves the same sort of disrespect for legal norms as his defiant actions toward Congress’ inquiry into the Ukraine matter.
Trump’s defenders argue that the evidence against him on Ukraine is incomplete and thus inconclusive. They’re correct that some potentially important witnesses — including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who reportedly put the hold on the Ukrainian aid, and former national security advisor John Bolton, who reportedly objected to the efforts to persuade Ukraine to conduct the investigations — haven’t testified. But that is because Trump has objected to such testimony. Delaying impeachment because of no-show witnesses would reward Trump’s obstructionism.
Besides, as the president himself tweeted on Thursday: “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.”
Holding the president accountable for gross abuse of power is the business of Congress. The House should get on with that business by writing articles of impeachment that make it clear to the Senate — and the American people — why the extraordinary remedy of impeachment is necessary. And Republicans who complain that the process is partisan could easily rectify that situation by abandoning their lockstep loyalty to Trump and looking at the facts.
Note: The Times’ editorial board determines the editorial positions of the organization. The editorial board opines on the important issues of the day – exhorting, explaining, deploring, mourning, applauding or championing, as the case may be. The board, which operates separately from the newsroom, proceeds on the presumption that serious, non-partisan, intellectually honest engagement with the world is a requirement of good citizenship.