The evidence is piling up to implicate President Donald Trump directly in an illegal scheme to use U.S. tax-supported government resources to bribe Ukraine, a weak and vulnerable ally, into giving direct support to the president’s future personal political campaign.
Today, attention in Washington is on the immediate, furious fight between Democrats and Republicans over the political fate of President Trump and ultimately the political futures of members of Congress.
Yet, the long-term consequences of the final impeachment vote — the vote for removal, which is likely to take place in the Senate in coming months — are vastly more important to democracy in the United States than any immediate political repercussions.
The various conspiracies in defense of Trump’s policy toward Ukraine are crumbling under the evidence presented by professional government experts and Trump-appointed representatives to the impeachment investigation.
- Ukraine did not oversee the attack on U.S. elections in 2016 as Trump and Russia allege. The Mueller Report, the assessments of the entire U.S. intelligence community, and expert testimony conclude that Russia conducted those attacks on American democracy. Further, intelligence experts also conclude that Russia benefits from the promotion of the false conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
- A variety of separate, credible witnesses have testified that the president blocked badly needed Congressionally appropriated military support to Ukraine and withheld an Oval Office meeting with Trump — unless the President of Ukraine announced an investigation of Joe Biden, Trump’s potential foe in the 2020 national election.
- Testimony is also clear that Trump, not some rogue diplomat, personally directed the bribery scheme in Ukraine. The messages Trump was sending through Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and others clearly established a quid pro quo — U.S. assistance and Oval Office meeting for an announcement on Biden.
- The president is not absolved of guilt by the release of military assistance to Ukraine after the scheme was exposed by a government whistle blower.
Trump’s alleged Ukraine scheme far exceeds the national significance of the Nixon-related domestic break-in or Bill Clinton’s sexual relations with an intern and is a legitimate issue for an impeachment process.
In the face of convincing evidence that Trump directed the bribery scheme in the Ukraine, the consequences of finding that his actions do not reach the level of impeachment set very dangerous standards for the future.
Guilt without impeachment creates a precedent that a president can solicit, bribe with tax dollars, or encourage a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election without penalty. Both parties should very seriously ponder if that is acceptable for future U.S. Presidents.
The relationship of the president to U.S. law is another serious consequence. It is a violation of U.S. law for citizens to solicit or accept campaign assistance from a foreign national. This includes money donations and any “other thing of value” in federal, state and local elections. Misappropriation of government funds or property for personal benefit is also illegal.
The presidency will be placed above the law if Donald Trump is guilty but not held to be personally accountable for violations of American law. Again, that is a very dangerous precedent.
The failure to hold the most senior national leader to account for improper and illegal acts also will discourage future professional government employees and military service members who see government wrong-doing and want to report it, particularly when a president pushes to expose the whistleblower for reprisals.
If Republican senators continue to stand in unison with President Trump on impeachment, the Democrats will be tempted to find compromise. The idea of some sort of admonishment or sanction of the president could be in play. That would be a historic mistake.
Surprisingly, Trump zealots in Congress like conspiracy-obsessed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who verbally assaults witnesses like a an insecure coach in a losing half-time speech — seem to pay no attention to the long-term implications to their personal reputations and their legacy of blindly following a frantic and erratic president trying to save his own political skin.
If the president is guilty of violating the law, undermining U.S. national security and bribing an ally for personal gain, are the loyalists ready to follow the path of past Trump supporters like Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos and others who walked off the professional gang plank for Donald Trump? Are they going to risk becoming labeled “Russian stooges” for ignoring documented Russian attacks on American democracy while endorsing a pro-Russian conspiracy theory on Ukraine?
If the evidence of presidential guilt is conclusive, senators who vote that the president’s actions do not reach the level of impeachment will be doing so for an immediate political gain for Trump and themselves without full consideration of the long-term consequences to the nation of their decision.
History will ultimately judge them.
Hopefully, the elected representatives of the American people will look beyond their personal political interests and act in the long-term interest of the nation.
James W. Pardew is a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria and career Army intelligence officer. He has served as deputy assistant secretary-general of NATO and is the author of “Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans.”