By MARSHA MERCER
For Democrats, the smoking gun arrived gift-wrapped from the White House.
President Trump ordered notes of his phone call with the president of Ukraine released Wednesday because, he said, they showed the call was “innocent,” “wonderful” and “perfect.” Hogwash.
Trump told President Volodymyr Zelensky he needed “a favor” and directed him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump believes his likely Democratic opponent in 2020, and his son, Hunter Biden.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump told Zelensky, referring to Attorney General William Barr.
He also urged Zelensky to work more closely with his personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani.
The United States has been “very, very good to Ukraine,” Trump said, adding Ukraine hadn’t reciprocated.
At the time – July 25 -- Trump was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, although Zelensky did not know it.
There’s no explicit quid pro quo in the call, and Trump insists he’s innocent and wanted only to investigate corruption. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill are backing him up.
“Nothing (no-quid pro quo) burger,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, tweeted, although Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said the matter is “deeply troubling in the extreme.”
The five-page memo reconstructing the call provided a picture of Trump’s misuse of his office for political gain.
The call came to light through news reports about a secret whistleblower complaint in August by an intelligence officer. While Trump had promised an “unredacted transcript” of the call, the notes contain ellipses indicating words left out.
The call persuaded House Democrats who had been on the fence it was time to begin the impeachment inquiry.
The complaint, unclassified and released Thursday by the House Intelligence Committee, reports an “urgent concern” that Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election.”
The complaint also reports the White House tried to cover up the call.
“The actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday, announcing the official impeachment inquiry, even before the notes and the complaint were released.
Trump’s defiant defense appears to be “I did it. So what?”
As we know, Trump’s MO is to tar his rivals. Joe Biden is the new Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presidential rival Trump labeled “crooked Hillary.”
In a news conference Wednesday, Trump lobbed unsubstantiated charges against the Bidens, as he has previously, claiming they took $1.5 billion out of China. He also claimed several congressional Democrats threatened to withhold funds from Ukraine.
Hunter Biden served on the board of a natural gas company in Ukraine that was investigated by Ukrainian authorities, but he was not accused of any wrongdoing.
As for impeachment: “It’s all a hoax, folks. It’s all a big hoax,” Trump said. “Impeachment for that?”
Impeachment is serious business, a last resort used only three times in American history.
The House draws up an indictment, called Articles of Impeachment. A simple majority vote of the House would send the indictment to the Senate for a trial presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove the president from office.
The constitutional standard for impeachment is “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
These do not have to be violations of criminal laws, but, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers: “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
Democrats have little time to make their case before the end of the year. The danger for them is winning the battle but losing the war. If the Republican-controlled Senate leaves Trump in office, he and his supporters will celebrate his victory and vindication all the way to the polls in November.
Impeachment now seems inevitable. It will be an ugly spectacle, a mud bath from which no one will emerge clean. Even if he wins, Trump will carry an indelible stain into history.
©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.