As each day goes by, Democrats uncover more evidence in support of their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The inquiry centers on the pressure that Trump allegedly put on Ukranian President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate rumors that former Vice President Joe Biden blocked a Ukranian investigation into a company called Burisma Holdings, which employed Biden’s son on the board.
Trump released a transcript of a phone call he held with President Zelensky in July of this year in which it was clear that Trump did in fact ask Zelensky to investigate the Biden rumors. That call sparked a whistleblower complaint which alleged that Trump was abusing his power to investigate a political rival in the 2020 election. And recent reports suggest that Trump may have withheld millions of dollars in military aid as leverage to get Zelensky to open the investigation.
Trump’s defense has primarily been that there was “no quid pro quo.” In other words, that while he asked Zelensky to investigate “corruption,” he did not ask him to do it for anything in exchange (i.e. the military funding). That defense, however, appears to be quickly crumbling as a drumbeat of government officials involved in Ukranian policy and discussions have been confirming that there was indeed a quid pro quo.
Over the past few weeks, each of these government officials have confirmed the existence of a quid pro quo:
William Taylor: Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, apparently testified that Trump ordered military assistance to Ukraine and a meeting between him and the Ukrainian leader was contingent on the Ukrainians publicly announcing investigations into the Biden’s.
Gordon Sondland: Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union testified that he believed that Trump would not meet with Zelensky unless he agreed to open an investigation into Burisma and the Biden’s.
Mick Mulvaney: Trump’s own Chief of Staff appeared to confirm the there was a quid pro quo, before later walking back those comments.
Others have similarly raised alarms with Trump’s actions in relation to Ukraine.
As each day goes on, the drumbeat of impeachment grows stronger. It is a near certainty that the House will impeach Trump. Reports are that it will be done by the end of the year, though Democrats seem to be enjoying taking their time and building a mountain of evidence that Trump required a quid pro quo, and of the worst kind–one that required an investigation aimed as his political opponent.
The question then becomes, will the Senate convict him?
As it stands now, with the Republicans holding a majority and a conviction needing 63 votes, it appears unlikely. But several Republicans seem to be signaling their disgust with each bit of news around Ukraine, most notably Mitt Romney. Most others have remained quiet, though rumors are abound that the chances of conviction are rising.
There are two considerations at play here:
First, was the quid pro quo an impeachable offense? Politics is politics. Quid pro quos have been a part of the game for centuries. If you vote for my bill on this one, you can count on my vote for your bill later on. Isn’t that how things get done in Congress? Remember the movie Charlie Wilson’s War? There is a scene in that movie whether Charlie Wilson is trying to get funding for his military support to Afghan rebels, and he cashes in his “chits” that he accumulated over time helping others in Congress with their own bills.
So when does a quid pro quo become something impeachable? There is no standard other than the vague “high crimes and misdemeanors” language in the Constitution. So Trump’s opponents have staked their claim on the notion that demanding an investigation into a political opponent as morally repugnant, and one they think America will agree crosses the line beyond politics as usual. So far, they seem to be right. The latest polls show that 52% of Americans now support impeaching Trump.
Second, this is politics. And a conviction must make political sense for the party that holds the trump card (pun intended…). So far, there has been no indication that the Republican Party may decide to ditch Trump and run another candidate. That is a risky gambit, particularly when the Democratic field is in a bit of disarray. Apart from Mike Pence, there is no other potential candidate to put forward. And Pence will never see the visceral and fervent support Trump has been able to generate among his supporters.
So what does all this mean? As we begin to see impeachment coming closer, watch out for prominent Republicans making themselves more visible. The more Mike Pence becomes visible, for example, the greater likelihood that there may be something afoot and a change is on the horizon.