The charges against President Trump are shaky, so why not wait and let voters make the call?
The Democrats have filed Articles of Impeachment. No one is surprised, because impeachment has been the goal for the radical Left and others who dislike the president since before his election.
Impeachment of a president is a solemn undertaking. It will inevitably, as Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist No. 65, veer toward political factions. Yet it is important that our Founders intentionally did not embrace “recalls” or “votes of no confidence.” Rather, our system demands from Congress evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors and contemplates a level of behavior commensurate with the chaos inflicted on the republic by potential removal of a president. By its very structure, it suggests a judicious exercise of that constitutional safeguard when the people have a clear opportunity to render their own judgment in less than a year.
To determine the facts, I have largely sought to avoid the media circus while taking part in depositions, reading reports, and observing public hearings. As a former prosecutor and as a member of the House Oversight Committee, I believe it important to review the facts and then render judgment.
The most important evidence presented is the July 25 call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, which the White House voluntarily released. I am sympathetic to those who reasonably believe that the call was not “perfect,” but I also do not see evidence sufficient to impeach a president of the United States. My specific thoughts are as follows:
Regarding the call, it was foreseeable that mentioning a potential political opponent on a call with a foreign head of state would, at a minimum, give the appearance of mixing domestic politics with foreign policy. This is particularly likely when there are people within the bureaucracy who want to find malfeasance, whether it exists or not. I also do not believe so much effort should be spent advancing the argument that there was “no quid pro quo.” It’s legally debatable, but it’s difficult to argue there wasn’t a “this for that” desired outcome, based on the totality of the phone call and the testimony. But conversations of this kind occur often between heads of state, and provided they are related to the interests of the United States, they are generally speaking legitimate.
It is important to stipulate the relatively clear facts. A meeting and a portion of foreign aid were in fact withheld. In the case of aid, it was withheld for two months and apparently with the knowledge of at least some in the White House. The president clearly wanted President Zelensky to act both in the form of investigations and, it appears, by way of some public statement(s) — ostensibly to demonstrate that Zelensky would be different from past Ukrainian leaders in combating the country’s endemic corruption. It also appears that President Trump wanted Ukraine’s assistance in looking into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation (which the Justice Department had been conducting) and into activities involving Ukraine and the Bidens vis-à-vis Burisma. So, were there high crimes and misdemeanors?
First, the president deserves, and is given under the Constitution, a great deal of latitude to conduct foreign policy, which includes tough negotiations. In the case of Ukraine, it is clear that President Trump wants Europe to carry more of the burden of supporting their effort, and that he views both a longstanding history of corruption and Ukraine’s nexus to our 2016 elections as a problem. He is most certainly within his rights to believe these things, and act on them. Indeed, federal law requires he act to stop corruption if American foreign aid is being distributed.
The history of corruption is readily agreed to by all. But central to the issue at hand is whether there is evidence that Ukraine worked with Democrats to influence our 2016 elections. While my Democrat colleagues and the media counter that this allegation has been “debunked,” in doing so, they make two errors. One, they suggest that because Russia is rightly regarded to have purposefully targeted our elections, this means Ukraine did not. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, and both can have meddled in varying degrees.
They also purposefully obfuscate the obvious evidence — as acknowledged under oath by one of the Democrats’ most celebrated witnesses, Dr. Fiona Hill — that there were troubling efforts by Ukrainians to influence the 2016 elections. They do this by conflating it with the less likely technological “interference” (see, e.g., “Crowdstrike”). To be certain, the president’s continued personal promotion of that angle perpetuates that questionable narrative, but that’s not the core issue. The truth is that we saw Ukrainian leaders — including the sitting ambassador — publicly attack candidate Trump in the press. We saw some make open efforts to promote Hillary Clinton and actually work with the DNC to try to dig up dirt on candidate Trump. Further, though later overruled, even a Ukrainian court once found that a Ukrainian parliamentarian and head of anti-corruption police interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. But what matters is that all of these things raise legitimate questions of Ukrainian engagement in 2016 elections, and thus provide President Trump with reasonable questions to raise to a new, reformist Ukrainian president.
Second, investigating the Bidens was never based on “digging up dirt,” as both Bidens’ public actions raise legitimate questions regarding self-dealing and are reasonably connected to overall corruption in Ukraine. The elder Biden threatened $1 billion in aid to the Ukrainians in part to eject the prosecutor general, who was looking into Burisma — an energy company with known corruption issues and a board that his own son was sitting on with income of $83,000 per month. Whether or not Biden’s effort was independently defensible, his actions regarding Burisma are not immune from scrutiny just because he is a candidate for president. That would be absurd. Even the Obama administration raised concerns about the likely conflict of interest involving the Bidens — as was clear in testimony provided by Ambassador Yovanovich.
It is also noteworthy that not one witness — in a sea of witnesses offering loads of conjecture — has yet provided direct evidence that the president targeted former vice president Biden or his son specifically and/or solely for political reasons involving the 2020 elections. Arguably the July 25 phone call could have been word-for-word the same even if Biden were not running for president, and if the name Biden had not been mentioned, the president’s comments would have been an unremarkable call for a crackdown on corruption by a country that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from U.S. taxpayers. Even if you make the leap that it had to be about gaining a 2020 advantage, not one witness offers direct, non-hearsay evidence connecting withholding aid specifically to targeting Biden for 2020 political gain. The closest was David Holmes’s testimony that Sondland said it was about “big stuff” like Biden, but that implication wasn’t specifically about 2020, and Sondland rejected this account anyway. For me, that’s the whole ballgame and ends the question of impeachment.
But for those remaining on the fence, we should not dismiss the larger context. Zelensky himself denies feeling pressure either during the phone call or after. The delay in funding was a fraction of the total that lasted for barely three months, and there is no evidence that the delay was actively communicated to Ukraine, certainly not in a way to apply pressure. Furthermore, there was reason to ask Ukraine, with a new reformer as president, to investigate potential meddling in 2016, and there were non-political reasons to mention looking into certain activities involving Biden and his proximity to associated allegations involving Burisma. Additionally, a delay in aid was consistent with the president’s directive that foreign aid in general be scrutinized, given our own country’s financial straits.
This is particularly obvious when viewed through the lens of history — in which President Obama saw an airliner get shot down in Ukraine and Russia annex Crimea, yet he resisted missile defense and had offered his own quid pro quo to Russian president Medvedev about needing space to get past the election, when he would have “more flexibility.” It is noteworthy that during the administration of President Trump, the Ukrainians now have a potential reformer president in Zelensky, full security funding, and Javelin missiles.
Therefore, while I will continue to examine any evidence offered in the apparent final days of this partisan impeachment exercise, House Democrats have utterly failed to provide compelling evidence of a high crime and misdemeanor meriting the impeachment of a president.
Once this process is completed in the U.S. House, we should immediately turn our attention to solving any one of the significant issues that Americans care most about. Reducing health-care prices, securing the border, balancing the budget, passing free trade, or providing a clear mission for our military — these are the things I hear Texans talking about every day. Let’s do our job now.
Whether you agree with this analysis or not, one thing is clearly true: Americans will have the opportunity to make their choice in just over ten months. We should let them do it.