Washington • I get my felonies mixed up. Was President Trump committing bribery, if he offered the Ukrainian president $250 million in foreign aid in exchange for an investigation to smear potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden? Or would that be considered extortion?
It doesn't matter. The real question is whether now, finally, the House of Representatives will perform its constitutional duty to hold Trump accountable. At this point, the president is practically begging for impeachment. Give it to him, already.
Look, this is not a close call. According to published reports about a whistleblower complaint — which the administration outrageously refuses to share with Congress — Trump, in a July phone call, badgered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to investigate Biden. Trump also withheld the military aid funds, which Ukraine desperately needs.
Without a transcript of the call, it is impossible to know whether the proffer of a quid pro quo — I’ll release the aid if you throw mud on my potential election rival — was explicit or merely implied. But it’s clearly there, and it’s the kind of message federal agents are accustomed to overhearing in the wiretapped conversations of organized crime bosses: You play ball with me, I’ll play ball with you, we both get what we want, and nobody has to get hurt.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, what more do you need to launch an official impeachment probe? I mean a real one, not the "sorta, kinda, maybe" investigation you've permitted thus far. It would be an outrageous abuse of power, clearly worthy of impeachment, for the president to use his office against a political opponent in this brazen manner.
That's bad enough in itself. But the incident involved seeking help from a foreign leader to gain advantage in a U.S. presidential election. I repeat: a foreign leader. Former special counsel Robert Mueller spent two years investigating whether Trump actively sought — or merely benefited from — such aid by Russia in the 2016 election. Now, allegedly, he's looking to Ukraine for election meddling in 2020.
Still not enough? Consider that the target of the hit job that Trump apparently tried to arrange is a former vice president who has dedicated his whole adult life to public service. That means nothing at all to Trump, I'm sure. But does it also mean nothing at all to members of Congress? Let me put the question another way to Republican senators: If Trump is willing to do this to Biden, what makes you think he would hesitate someday to do the same to you?
Also impeachable is the administration's refusal to follow the law and disclose the whistleblower's full complaint to Congress. Ironically — and perhaps sadly, at this point — this last offense is what Pelosi cited, in a letter to members of Congress released Sunday, as a potential last straw.
"If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president," she wrote, "they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."
By "whole new stage," one assumes, Pelosi must mean impeachment. But she did not use that word, so maybe she's still looking for some excuse not to act.
Trump's numerous acts of obstruction of justice are painstakingly detailed in the Mueller report. His egregious abuses of power and his self-enriching corruption are clear for all to see. He has shown a cavalier willingness to simply ignore laws and court orders he finds inconvenient. His stonewalling of congressional committees mocks the foundational principle of separation of powers. The case for impeachment passed its tipping point long ago.
Biden said Saturday that "Trump's doing this because he knows I'll beat him like a drum, and he's using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me."
Trump's fear is palpable. The fact that he would risk trying to muscle a foreign leader into ginning up a "scandal" to hang around Biden's neck shows how desperately worried he is about losing the election. Now that this outrage is coming to light, Trump's mouthpieces — led by his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and amplified by Fox News — will try to frame the debate as if a scandal had in fact been uncovered. None has been.
Trump's reelection strategy is apparently to replace the innuendo of "Hillary's emails" with the smarm of "Biden and Ukraine." He should be forced to throw his mud from the dock of an impeachment trial.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.