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Waelti: Trump must be impeached regardless
John Waelti

House Democrats are getting serious, moving inexorably toward impeaching President Trump. This is equivalent to indictment in a court system. The Senate will act as the jury, needing two-thirds of members to convict and remove Trump from office, which is not likely to happen.

Only two previous presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson, who escaped conviction by only one vote, and Bill Clinton who escaped by a wider margin. Richard Nixon avoided impeachment and certain conviction by resigning from office in 1974.

President Trump will be only the third American president to face actual impeachment proceedings. In the Nixon case, Republicans informed Nixon that he did not have their support, prompting his resignation. While the constantly changing and mixed Republican narrative appears to give senators wiggle room, they currently support Trump.

 Impeachment is a political process, with political narratives to accompany it. The Republican line long has been that impeachment was the Democratic goal from the outset. This is plain Republican eyewash, evidenced by the fact that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a vast majority of Democratic politicians, as well as rank and file Democratic voters, initially opposed impeachment. While a few — very few — Democratic House members urged impeachment early on, this is a far cry from the Republican, Fox News, and conservative talk radio line that “impeachment is what Democrats wanted all along.” It simply is not.

The conventional wisdom, affirmed by media pundits and nearly all Democrats, was that unlike Nixon and Clinton, Trump will be up for reelection. This would be the effective way to rid the nation of a lawless president who does not recognize the separation of powers and the roles of the court system and the free press in a functioning democracy. 

Many Democrats and media pundits anticipated that the Mueller Report would provide grist for impeachment. Even Trump and his Republicans feared it; that’s why they made every effort to discredit the investigation. It turned out that regardless of affirmation of Russian interference and numerous citations of obstruction of justice, the Report had no practical political effect. It was lengthy, composed of complex legal language, and implicitly left any further action to the congress. Attorney General Barr’s improper and convoluted preemptory rollout of the Report set the tone. Mueller’s bland congressional testimony ended any illusion that the report, regardless of citations of clear obstruction of justice, would lead to impeachment.

The president was once again home free — yet another Republican victory that encouraged flouting norms and breaking laws “because one could get away with it.” While Trump had yet to “shoot somebody on 5th Avenue,” he was getting away with far more than any other public official could.

Even with Trump’s boasts of invincibility and unwavering support by his Republicans, he is basically a weak, insecure individual. Since he had already benefitted from Russian interference in the 2016 election, why not obtain assistance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the 2020 election, and at the same time conveniently discredit the Russian interference of 2016? 

Congressional approval of U.S. military aid to Ukraine provided the perfect opportunity for offering Zelensky “a deal he couldn’t refuse.”

Trump’s Director of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, had earlier held up those congressionally mandated funds. Meanwhile, Trump’s minions, including Rudy Giuliani acting as Trump’s personal attorney, and in an unofficial “State Department capacity,” were at work. Trump’s millionaire donor, Gordon Sondland, rewarded with an undeserved ambassadorship to the European Union, was inexplicably working in Ukraine to urge Zelensky to initiate an investigation into the Bidens, in return for assurance of receiving a visit by Vice President Pence, and the congressionally approved military aid.

In addition, two Giuliani associates, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were illegally funding foreign money to a Texas Congressman to discredit Ukrainian Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who was standing in the way of improper pressuring of Zelensky by Giuliani and Sondland. Parnas later admitted that, under Giuliani’s direction, he pressured a Ukrainian official that failure to announce an investigation of the Bidens would mean a freeze in American aid. Giuliani denies this. 

Trump’s July 25 phone call to Zelensky raised the whistleblower’s complaint and congressional alarm. Military aid to Ukraine would be released “if you would do me a favor, though,” — the investigation of the Bidens. Zelensky’s ability to defend his country depended on that congressionally approved military aid. The reluctant Zelensky was in a bind with that “deal he couldn’t refuse.”

Before Zelensky had to make the tough decision, the aid was released, thanks to the whistleblower’s alarm.

 The whistleblower’s complaint generated the anticipated Republican objections — it depended only on “hearsay.” An alternative narrative was that “there was no quid pro quo.” Subsequently released notes of the transcript of the call, and the transcript itself, showed clearly that Trump proposed a deal that amounted to extortion. Some Republicans continued to deny that Trump proposed a deal. Others changed their narrative to “it doesn’t matter.” Mulvaney even insisted that “it happens all the time.” Subverting foreign policy for personal gain does not happen all the time, and it’s illegal.

Democrats and pundits, including the normally astute Eugene Robinson, urge “dropping the Latin,” as “quid pro quo” is “too difficult to understand.” The real problem is that “quid pro quo” sounds innocent, indicating nothing about the very illegitimacy of Trump’s proposed deal.

The proposed deal was extortion — withholding military aid in return for something of value benefitting the American president, namely soliciting foreign assistance to smear a potential political opponent. 

Congressional testimony by nonpartisan, credible witnesses affirm the legitimacy of the whistleblower’s complaint. Even Trump’s boy Sondland had to change his testimony, as his earlier disingenuous statements put him in the position of flirting with perjury.

Republicans will surely attempt to block and confuse impeachment by throwing up whatever chaff is convenient. Their changing narrative is revealing. But even with the likelihood of no conviction, the impeachment process must proceed.

— John Waelti of Monroe, a retired professor of economics, can be reached at