What if a local official acted in this manner?
Imagine the following scenario.
The City Council has authorized a grant application to enhance police protection — more officers, better equipment. But the application, and the funding it would provide, sit on the mayor’s desk.
Mayoral aides have explained to the police chief that there is something the mayor needs before the grant can be finalized and the money released. The police department must investigate the mayor’s potential opponent in the next city election, and his son, and his son’s business ties. But, first, the chief should make an announcement that such an investigation is taking place.
Subsequently, in what he considers a perfect conversation with the chief, the mayor is less direct, but delivers the message nonetheless. When the subject of what the chief needs — more officers, better equipment — comes up, the mayor responds, “I would like you to do us a favor, though … I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with my opponent.”
Would anyone consider such behavior to be OK? Would anyone of moral character, learning that the mayor had placed his own political needs above public safety, not demand his resignation and, failing to get that, his forcible removal from office?
By now you should recognize the analogy. The mayor is President Donald Trump. The “mayor’s” opponent is Joe Biden. The beleaguered police chief is the president of Ukraine. The withheld grant funding is the $391 million appropriation approved by Congress to bolster Ukraine’s defense, an expenditure seen as being in our national interest to discourage Soviet-style expansionism by Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
Yet apologists for the president, who would not tolerate such behavior by their own mayor or first selectman, refuse to acknowledge the wrongfulness of the president’s conduct. These apologists talk instead about the House investigation process, try to turn the focus to Biden, and demand to learn the identity of the whistleblower who first exposed this conduct — disregarding that the whistleblower’s claims have been verified by multiple, highly credible witnesses.
On Wednesday the impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives and its Intelligence Committee moves into the public hearing phase. The public will hear from foreign service officers of the attempts by the administration to force Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Biden, his son Hunter Biden and the Ukraine company on whose board he served, and into some zany conspiracy theory that Ukraine possesses the Democratic National Committee server hacked in 2016.
Used to twist Zelensky’s arm in this attempt to destroy Trump’s political rival was the withholding of defense money and the promise of a cherished meeting with the American president.
It was extortion, using the levers of presidential power; give us what we want, or you don’t get what you need to protect your country. And bribery too. The Ukraine president gets the payoff of a White House visit for going after the Bidens. The U.S. Constitution is explicit in stating a president shall, if impeached by the House, be removed from office by the Senate for bribery and for other “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Those who truly listen to the testimony and evidence presented during the coming hearing, who are not distracted by the sideshows and diversions, will learn that President Trump is guilty of impeachable offenses.
Ignoring that reality, turning a willful blind eye, would set a dangerous precedent. It would signal to future presidents that they can use the awarding or withholding of U.S. aid to win foreign help for their own domestic political purposes. Find, or manufacture, dirt on a U.S. president’s opponents and curry favor with the president — that will be the message sent to the world in letting Trump’s misbehavior go unchecked.
The Senate Republicans are sending their own signals. They will look the other way. They won’t fulfill their oath of office and protect the Constitution. Instead, they will protect the president. Only the public, and particularly rank-and-file Republicans, can change that equation by sending the message to Republican leaders that Trump’s actions were not acceptable.
If the polls do not change, if Republican opposition to impeachment remains strong, Trump will likely survive an impeachment trial at the expense of our national character. Sad.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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It is this kind of cynical game playing that leaves Americans so frustrated with, and disillusioned about, Washington politics.
It’s a powerful communication tool with many benefits for users who understand it. On the other hand, it also has a tremendous potential to cause damage.