Until recently, I was not in favor of impeaching President Trump for the very good reason that, while impeachment seems all but certain in the House of Representatives, conviction and removal from office is a long shot in the Senate. And as we have seen in the culmination of the Mueller investigation, Trump will declare such a result “complete exoneration.”
What changed my mind, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, was the whistleblower alert to Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky, who said he’d like to buy American-made Javelin missiles to help repel Russian-backed insurrection in his country. Trump replied that “I need a favor from you though.” Two favors, actually. The first was for Zelensky to order an investigation into the far-fetched theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to hack the party’s own emails as an “insurance policy” against Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 presidential election. Under this scenario, Democrats, seeking to nullify Trump’s election, accuse him of colluding with Russia. The other favor Trump asked of Zelensky was to collect “dirt” on former vice president/current presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian energy company’s board.
Sound familiar? Donald Jr. told a Russian intermediary who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that he would “love it.” Yet we’re asked to believe that nothing ever came of that exchange, even after we heard candidate Trump implore Russia on national TV to find his opponent’s “30,000 missing emails.” Next day, hacked Democratic Party emails embarrassing to Clinton were released by WikiLeaks. For arcane legal reasons, Robert Mueller’s Russian-interference investigation failed to make a prosecutable case against Trump while leaving no doubt that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
But there’s nothing arcane about Trump’s Ukraine shakedown. The president used an implied threat to withhold a request for missiles as well as an actual delay in releasing $391 million in congressionally authorized military aid to coerce foreign-manufactured political dirt.
Republicans argue there’s no quid pro quo in the president’s words, though he repeated on TV his appeals—both to Ukraine and China—to investigate the Bidens (promising Chinese President Xi to forsake Hong Kong). Inviting foreign interference in U.S. elections is illegal. It’s also a highly impeachable crime. Trump’s defenders change the subject by equating his Ukrainian conversations with Biden’s, though no one accuses Biden of recruiting foreigners to smear American presidential candidates. Another diversionary tactic, employed by Republican Rep. Andy Harris at his Easton town hall, is that the impeachment inquiry is an unconstitutional effort to overturn the 2016 election.
Ken Starr, whose investigation of President Clinton resulted in his impeachment, calls the current Democratic-led probe a “star chamber.” He and other Trump defenders demand that the House hold open hearings. Now. They question the fairness of an inquiry based on hearings behind closed doors. But similar inquiries happen every day in our judicial system—and for good reason. Grand jury proceedings are secret in order to prevent various witnesses from readily aligning their testimony.
This is particularly relevant in an impeachment proceeding in which the president claims blanket executive privilege and orders even associates who don’t work for the White House not to testify or cooperate in producing documents. Further, the usual investigatory options are unavailable to this impeachment inquiry. Attorney General William Barr has proved himself to be the president’s legal protector. Never mind his misrepresentation of the Mueller report before its release and hearings on its content. He’s more recently embarked on international missions to revive the aforementioned, long-debunked conspiracy theories espoused by Rudy Giuliani and his jailed Fraud Guarantee cohorts. Not even the FBI can be trusted as long as its director reports, ultimately, to this compromised attorney general.
If this sounds like extraordinary circumstance—even for impeachment of a president—it is.
Which brings us to another call the president made a couple of Sundays ago. We don’t have a transcript of that one. But we see the daily fallout of what the president said or didn’t say as the Turks bombard Kurdish movements inside Syria where, until recently, the Kurds fought alongside American troops. The president, in dereliction of his duty, routinely refuses to read or listen to daily intelligence briefings. To make decisions, he consults his “gut” instead. Trump doesn’t listen to advice from career government experts, dismissing them as “deep state” suspects intent on subverting his mandate. He spends his “executive time” watching cable news while tweeting or making phone calls informed only by his “great unmatched wisdom.”
As a result of lazy habits and willful ignorance, Trump evidently gave the green light to Turkish President Erdogan’s military incursion into Syria. Whether it was an Erdogan ultimatum or a Trump invitation, the president neglected to secure a safe and orderly withdrawal of American troops. They were fired upon by Turkish insurgents within hours of the president’s call. Besides the shameful abandonment of Kurdish allies who helped retake the ISIS caliphate and imprison thousands of its terrorists—many now on the loose—Trump’s action, or inaction, put troops under his ultimate command in mortal danger. Sending U.S. troops into precipitous retreat in the face of Turkey’s invasive onslaught makes Americans look like cowards and America an unreliable ally. Soldiers have said they felt ashamed for the first time in uniform. Trump bullies his allies but when foreign adversaries say “boo,” he turns into chicken-in-chief. The only winners in this debacle are Russia, Iran and Syria’s accused war-criminal president, Assad.
Impeachment proceedings should, indeed, proceed as diplomats are testifying in defiance of Trump. But if, in light of the president’s foreign policy incompetence or worse, possible collusion with foreign agents, Congress and the Cabinet with Vice President Pence’s highly unlikely assent, could remove him from office under the 25th Amendment. Trump has shown himself manifestly unfit for the presidency, failing to uphold the constitution in virtually every way imaginable.
The president must be held accountable.
Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.