It now looks as though the impeachment of Donald Trump will focus exclusively, or nearly exclusively, on Trump’s shakedown of the Ukrainian government to generate dirt on Joe Biden. That’s a shame.
Suppose—yes, it’s hard, but just suppose—that before that phone call to Zelensky Trump had been a generally law-abiding president, doing nothing to obstruct the Russia investigation and generally not abusing the powers of his office. Would Congress now be engaged in an impeachment process? Almost certainly not. The corruption of US foreign policy objectives in the service of domestic partisan politics is undoubtedly an impeachable offense; it would have generated intense criticism on both sides of the aisle, but it would not have been enough in and of itself to set off an impeachment process. Yet the Democrats are focusing laser-like on this one abuse.
Why? They’ve got a ready-made case for impeachment on numerous other grounds. The Mueller Report practically invited Congress to impeach on multiple counts of obstruction of justice. Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal campaign finance case that put his lawyer/henchman in prison. And Trump illegally moved funds appropriated by Congress for a different purpose in order to build his wall, declaring an obviously bogus national emergency. All of these are slam-dunks, requiring little or no additional investigation. (I’d also like to see Trump impeached for continuous violation of the emoluments clause, but that’s a harder case to make.)
The reason the Democrats are focusing on the Ukraine, apparently, is that it is clear and easy to understand. And that it involves national security. (It doesn’t—it involves the security of the Ukraine, a country the US means to protect, but not of the US.) So, as a practical political matter, the case is easy to make. But the necessity of impeaching Trump does not arise from any practical concern. We all know that as a practical political reality, Trump will not be convicted by the Senate. The necessity for impeachment flows from Congress’s duty to hold a president to account for misconduct. The Ukraine shakedown is part of a pattern of lawlessness and abuse. A failure to consider the whole pattern in effect says “yeah, he’s done a lot of bad things, but this is really bad.” But a lot of bad things adds up to a pattern that’s really bad. Not to say so is an abdication of Congressional responsibility.