This is not a food fight, though Republicans seem to wish it were. This is not a cheesy reality show where fake outrage “wins” and substance “loses.” This is history.
The first day of public testimony in the House impeachment inquiry produced a stunning account of misconduct by the president. Two veteran diplomats described an elaborate clandestine scheme in which President Trump sought to coerce the president of Ukraine into trading arms for dirt — nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid in exchange for publicly smearing Joe Biden.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the testimony of William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, “corroborated evidence of bribery” by Trump. Pelosi’s assessment, in my view, is an understatement. We heard evidence to substantiate at least three articles of impeachment.
There was indeed bribery, which is specifically cited in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment. Trump unilaterally held up the military aid approved by Congress and conditioned its release on an announcement by the Ukrainian president that he would launch a corruption investigation of Biden and his son Hunter.
Republicans seeking to defend Trump made much of the fact that the aid was eventually released. But the release happened only after Congress had learned, from a whistleblower’s complaint, that the money had been held up. And it happened, as Taylor testified, just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to give a CNN interview in which he planned to announce an investigation of the Bidens. Ukrainian officials have said repeatedly that there was actually nothing to investigate.
The federal bribery statute does not require the corrupt exchange to be consummated. For a federal official to seek such a favor, in exchange for an official act, is a crime.
The second impeachable act was abuse of power. Kent spent much of his opening statement explaining why U.S. policy under the last four presidents has been to support Ukraine against the existential threat posed by its more powerful neighbor, Russia. Taylor vividly described visiting the front lines where the Ukrainian military is fighting a shooting war. Some of Trump’s loudest defenders in Congress have also been among the loudest to insist that holding the line against Russia in Ukraine is vital to U.S. national security.
To put our security at risk — by withholding the military aid — for personal political gain is a gross abuse of power, and clear grounds for impeachment.
The third impeachable act that Trump has committed, and continues to commit, is obstruction of Congress. Republicans complained that since neither Taylor nor Kent was in direct contact with Trump, the evidence they provided was “second-hand” or “hearsay.” In fact, both men were careful to describe only what they saw and heard, making a clear distinction between what they knew and what they surmised. But they appeared, under subpoena, despite Trump administration orders not to testify at all. The House wants acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others close to president to give first-hand accounts of Trump’s actions. For some reason, Trump won’t let them.
The administration has made the outrageous decision to refuse to provide any documents or witnesses to a duly authorized inquiry by the House of Representatives. That is the haughty attitude of a king, not a public servant, and it clearly amounts to intolerable obstruction worthy of impeachment.
All of the above comes from a single public hearing.
In the coming days and weeks, we will learn more about the “drug deal,” as former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly called it, that Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were trying to arrange with Ukraine. We will learn more about the activities of Giuliani’s associates, Soviet-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, charged with violating federal campaign finance laws. We will learn more about the role played by Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who seems to be so forgetful that one hopes he remembers what day he’s supposed to testify. We will learn more about the phone conversation between Sondland and Trump that was overheard by a member of Taylor’s staff in a Kyiv restaurant, the day after Trump’s shakedown phone call with Zelensky.
History is in motion. Tweets and tantrums cannot stop it.
Eugene Robinson is an associate editor of The Washington Post and won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2009.