Jonah Goldberg: Little doubt he did it, but should Trump be impeached?
Here’s a take no one will like: I’m confident he did it. I’m confident it’s impeachable. I’m just not so sure he should be impeached for it.
Let’s start at the top. It’s obvious to me that President Trump pressured the Ukrainian government to launch a probe of former Vice President Biden in order to tarnish the image of the Democrat best positioned to defeat him in 2020.
In the rough transcript of his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump says America has been very good to Ukraine, but he wants the relationship to be more “reciprocal.” Zelenskiy agrees and asks for more anti-tank missiles to deter ongoing Russian military aggression. Trump responds by asking for a two-part “favor.”
First, he asks Zelenskiy to look into the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s servers (a bat-guano-crazy request, but whatever). Then, Trump mentions “the other thing” he wants.
“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 says.
The context matters as much as the text. Trump had already blocked the transfer of congressionally approved military aid. Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, had been hectoring the Ukrainians for months to go after Biden. Giuliani even admitted it last May in an interview with The New York Times. He said he was lobbying the Ukrainians to investigate Biden because “that information will be very, very helpful to my client.”
And that’s why Trump asked Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani.
There’s more context as well. There were reportedly other calls in which Trump importuned the Ukrainians this way. Trump’s explanation for why he froze the military aid to Ukraine in the first place keeps changing. On Sept. 23 he said he blocked it out of concern over Ukrainian corruption (the only corruption in the world he’s passionate about, apparently). On Sept. 24 he said the real reason was that he wanted our allies to pony up even more money for the government he claimed was too corrupt for our aid in the first place.
Normally you’d think an inadvertent confession would settle things. But when Trump said of his call with Ukraine, “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden,” the assumption was that he misspoke.
Regardless, I think Trump did it. I think it’s obvious he did it. I also think it’s obvious that this is an impeachable offense.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m persuaded he must be impeached over it.
Impeachment doesn’t mean “removal from office.” It’s the political equivalent of a grand jury indictment, with the House fully empowered to impeach any action it deems impeachable. It’s up to the Senate to decide whether a president should be removed.
Impeachment is ultimately a question of whether a president violated the public trust. But there’s nothing in the Constitution that says a president must be impeached for violating the public trust.
Absent new facts, the GOP- controlled Senate will not remove Trump. The president would claim “exoneration,” and his behavior would become normalized for future presidents. So I’m not sure Democrats are right to pursue impeachment. I’m sure Republicans are wrong to pretend that what Trump did was totally fine.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch