Trump's actions invited impeachment inquiry

To assure the institution she leads fulfills its role as a check on the abuse of power by the executive branch, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi was left with no choice but to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president’s conduct in dealing with Ukraine and the administration’s steps to obstruct Congress.

On Tuesday Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry of President Trump. She said it would be carried out by the six committees that have been investigating the president. We would have preferred to see the inquiry be vested in a single, special committee, providing better focus.

But procedure is not the major point.

President Trump has acknowledged that in a July 25 phone conversation with the then newly elected president of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky, he discussed his interest in allegations of corruption involving Hunter Biden and his father, the former vice president, Joe Biden.

Right-wing conspiracists push the narrative that the senior Biden, when vice president, sought the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to block the prosecutor from homing in on the Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings. Why? Because Hunter Biden worked for Burisma. Unfortunately for the conspiracists, that tale has been debunked.

In 2016, when Joe Biden acted, there was consensus among the United States and its allies that the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, had to go because his true intent was not to stop corruption but seek bribes in return for letting it continue.

Granted, Hunter Biden was almost certainly hired because of his connection to a powerful U.S. official, but no evidence of corruption has surfaced.

But if the Trump campaign could revive the claims that Biden’s threat to withhold aid in 2016 was to protect his son, it could damage the credibility of the Democrat who most polls show is the leading threat to the president’s re-election. To that end Trump dispatched his personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, to the Ukraine to find dirt.

Shortly before his call to the president of Ukraine, Trump froze more than $391 million in aid to that country. Authorized by Congress, the funds were intended to train and equip Ukrainian forces to counter Russian incursion; no small matter.

A president seeking the assistance of a foreign country to discredit a political rival is highly inappropriate and stunningly unpatriotic. It would be criminal if Trump or his agents tied the release of the military assistance to Ukraine to its helping undermine Biden.

The crime would be bribery. In this case a public official, the president, demanding something of political value from another country in return for releasing funds — not in accordance with the will of Congress — but in political self-interest.

Constitution clear

Treason and bribery are the only specific crimes cited in the U.S. Constitution for which a president “shall” be removed from office. Not may be — shall be removed.

“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” it so states.

We also know that Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, is in receipt of a “credible” and “urgent” Aug. 12 whistle-blower complaint from an intelligence officer to the inspector general. Maguire has blocked the inspector general from sharing the report with congressional intelligence committees, in defiance of the law.

Speculation is that it could shed more light on what went down concerning Ukraine and the Trump administration, but Congress has been left in the dark.

Pelosi recognizes that as unacceptable. We agree.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would provide to Congress the transcript of his conversation with the president of Ukraine. That is a welcomed development, but hardly enough.

The Trump administration must also provide the whistleblower report. And the executive branch should not interfere as Congress calls to testify officials who may have knowledge of the Ukraine matter.

Like us, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has been reluctant to entertain impeachment. But he was correct Tuesday in pointing to the failure to provide the whistleblower report as a game changer.

“We are at a critical moment for our nation, involving a ‘credible’ complaint concerning the actions of a sitting president happening in real-time. That is why I now believe it is time to elevate this process to a formal inquiry on the President and his potential misconduct, and to follow the facts wherever they may lead — which includes the most serious action the House can take under the Constitution: impeachment,” stated Courtney.

If the Trump administration fails to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, that act of obstruction could itself constitute an article of impeachment.

Critical to a finding of bribery is proof of a quid pro quo. Trump, we suspect, was not so sloppy as to directly tie military aid to the Biden affair in his phone conversation. Such arrangements are seldom expressly stated. Yet a full airing by Congress could well uncover tacit agreements and circumstantial evidence that make the case for bribery.

That the administration announced Sept. 11 that it would release the funds is immaterial. By then, the jig was up. The White House had failed to give congressional critics, including Republicans, any credible explanation for withholding the aid to Ukraine and, two days previously, news of the whistleblower case had become public.

It is the sworn responsibility of senators and congressmen to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The danger to its ideals is now clear and present.

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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