Notwithstanding three out of four law professors’ case for impeaching the president during last Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, I remain unconvinced.
Much to my disappointment, I should add.
The crux of this dreary impeachment process is whether Donald Trump violated his constitutional duty when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Companion to this question is whether, as incentive, Trump made military aid and a White House visit contingent upon Zelensky’s agreeing to conduct the investigation, or at least upon Zelensky publicly saying he would.
From this set of circumstances, House Democrats and most of the media have inferred that the president variously engaged in a quid pro quo, bribery and/or extortion and, more recently, abuse of power. Democrats have struggled to name that crime, before settling on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in their articles of impeachment.
Here’s the obvious sticking point: If Joe Biden were not running for president, no one would question Trump’s request for information related to the junior Biden’s overpaid position on the board of a natural gas company while his father was vice president of the United States and, coincidentally, charged with pushing anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
But then, virtually everyone knows that the only reason Trump was concerned about corruption was because Joe Biden was his likely opponent in the 2020 election. We know, too, that military aid was withheld for a time but released once a whistleblower report surfaced. The perceived offense isn’t so much that Trump did these things but that an investigation — or at least the announcement of an investigation — would have directly benefited his 2020 election prospects.
When Joe Biden says he never discussed the board position with his son other than to say, “I hope you know what you’re doing,” I take him at his word. But I also question why he didn’t say, “Son, I love you, but you can’t take this job as long as I’m vice president of the United States.”
Let’s be honest: There was something odd going on with Hunter Biden and Burisma. Given his lack of qualifications, Hunter Biden’s hiring by Burisma was transparently because of his last name, as he admitted himself during an October interview with ABC News. This isn’t a crime, either, except perhaps of perception. The young Biden got lucky when he was born a Biden and, apparently, has enjoyed the benefits without inconvenience to his conscience.
Trump may be everything his critics say he is — corrupt, dishonest, an embarrassment and a liar. But what he did wasn’t illegal in the vein of extortion or bribery, accusations which Democrats used before moving toward a discussion of broader concepts of high crimes and misdemeanors. While an act needn’t be criminal to be impeachable, the argument that Trump’s conduct rises to the level of impeachable offense revolves around the facts that, one, Trump was seeking help from a foreign nation and, two, that he might have benefited personally.
Involvement of a foreign nation in the nation’s politics was an early concern of the Constitution’s framers, which is partly why they included the impeachment clause.
Given that Trump didn’t really care about an investigation and sought only to connect dad Biden with a corruption investigation, it is fair to infer that his motives were political. But, asking a fellow head of state to investigate a person doing business in another country isn’t quite the same as inviting him to meddle in U.S. elections. Ultimately, the result might be the same, assuming a damaging finding about Joe Biden. But wouldn’t American voters want to know if such were the case? And isn’t Trump the meddler to the extent that he, not Ukraine, would have used the information?
What’s clear is Zelensky did not announce or pursue an investigation and U.S. military aid was released. Full stop. So, as to abuse of power, one wonders why now? Trump has seemingly been abusing power since he took office. His gamble that pressuring Zelensky would earn him political rewards was stupid and amateurish for such a seasoned thug, but his threatened impeachment seems more a political means to an end than a rally to the Constitution’s defense.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.