In a nutshell here’s the impeachment deal: The rough transcript of a July 25, 2019, phone call between President Donald J. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has Trump asking Zelensky for help in digging up dirt on Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking to be the Democratic Party’s nominee to run against Trump in the 2020 elections.
The transcript, as released by Trump’s White House, uses Trump’s own words in issuing the request.
Such a request — that a foreign leader use investigative resources in his country to hamstring a political opponent of a U.S. president — may be, in and of itself, a “high crime and misdemeanor.” It fits the standard set by the U.S. Constitution for what would justify impeaching a president, legal scholars assert.
The Federal Election Campaign Act states in unambiguous terms that any contribution by a foreign national to a campaign of an American candidate for any office, state or national, is illegal.
Then there’s the coverup. The transcript of that “Do-us-a-favor” call was initially sealed into a highly classified storage system meant only for information about spying and secret weapons systems. Normally, transcripts of presidential calls to foreign leaders are archived in a system with much lower security protection.
The idea, clearly, was to bury the call and ensure that it never surfaced into the light of open political discourse and media coverage. The coverup could also be considered an offense to be cast as an article of impeachment.
Some suggest that Trump released the transcript of his phone call to Zelensky only because his newly appointed director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, threatened to resign if the document was held back. Subsequently, Maguire denied he had so threatened.
Late last week, The Washington Post also reported, citing former White House officials as “reliable sources,” that Trump had told Russian President Vladimir Putin it was OK for the Russians to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“You do it, we do it, everybody does it,” Trump is alleged to have said.
The report by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in those elections and possible obstruction of justice by Trump may also figure in any articles of impeachment drafted by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
In addition to the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the White House also released a transcript of a “whistleblower complaint” about Trump’s interactions with Zelensky.
That complaint, by a still-to-be-identified federal employee, echoes the gist of the phone call transcript: that Trump attempted to get Zelensky to probe whether Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, broke any Ukrainian laws in promoting the growth of Burisma Holdings Ltd., a gas company in the Ukraine.
The hullabaloo over the Trump-Zelensky phone call harked up a recent interview of Trump by ABC-TV’s George Stephanopoulos. In that interview, Trump told the ABC anchor he thought if he were offered inside information by a foreign government that could help his campaign, “I’d want to take a look at it.”
“Trump has been running a shakedown racket” and “selling out our country,” charged TV and print pundit Jonathan Alter.
Presidential historian and former Random House publishing company executive editor Jonathan Meacham asked: “Are Republicans comfortable with a president who would trade away American sovereignty? Or would they rather somebody else be president who wouldn’t do that?”
Former GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, now retired, reportedly has told Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, to “prepare for the end of the Trump era.”
Indeed, formally announced last week by current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump’s remarks and behavior as president is under way. Articles of impeachment, Pelosi has said, could be ready by late October.