Finally, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and I agree on something. In announcing the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Nadler said: “Our next election is at risk...That is why we must act now.”
That, you see, is why Democrats have been pushing to impeach Trump for as long as he’s been in office: they do not want to take the risk that he might get re-elected.
The first sentence of the first article of impeachment says it all, stating that Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” No mention of a quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, or a “shake-down,” the phrases Democrats had been trying out in the last few months. They settled on accusing Trump of “abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.”
According to the resolution, the interference that Trump solicited was for Ukraine “to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection.” These were investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, “a political rival,” and a “discredited theory…that Ukraine—rather than Russia—interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.” Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into announcing these investigations by making them the condition for receiving security assistance Congress had appropriated and a “head of state meeting at the White House, which the President of Ukraine sought.”
Clarity is vital for something as serious as trying to remove a duly elected president. Presidents solicit actions by other governments and apply various kinds of pressure all the time. In this specific situation, there were legitimate reasons for Trump to urge Ukraine to investigate corruption. By Democrats’ own terms, it is Trump’s alleged motive of seeking “interference in the 2020… election” that turns this from the duties and decisions while in office to the reason for removing him from that office.
When he opened the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearing on Nov. 13, Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) stated: “The facts in the present inquiry are not seriously contested.” Well, facts about the delay in security assistance, about Trump’s desire that Ukraine conduct investigations, and some kind of link between the two may not be seriously contested.
But Democrats do not seek to impeach Trump simply for those actions. Rather, they say that Trump took those actions “for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit.” This last part—the “corrupt purposes”—is the key to the whole thing.
An impeachment is fairly compared to an indictment in the criminal justice process. Democrats’ first article of impeachment is the equivalent of an indictment for a specific-intent crime. It’s not enough to prove that a defendant did something, or even that he intended to do it. If a prosecutor charges a specific-intent crime, he must also prove that specific subjective intent. In the impeachment process, that means proving Trump intended his actions to result in Ukraine interfering in next year’s election.
Testifying before the Judiciary Committee earlier this week, Intelligence Committee investigations director Dan Goldman said Trump sought to “coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election.” Saying it, however, does not make it so.
Nor does speculation about what the investigations that Trump sought might have uncovered, or how those results might have been used. Without evidence that Trump intended that result, this remains a hypothetical, in part because Ukraine never conducted those investigations.
Perhaps Trump’s critics believe that he had, as the impeachment resolution states, “corrupt motives” in pushing Ukraine to investigate these matters. Believing it, however, does not prove it. Perhaps that doesn’t concern them. Perhaps, like Nadler, they simply want to affect next year’s election.
This piece originally appeared in The Federalist