Michelle Goldberg: Please, Democrats, don’t make the impeachment articles too narrow

(Jacquelyn Martin | AP) George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

At Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, the witness called by Republicans, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, gave a disingenuous, hackish performance.

Turley criticized the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump as overly partisan, a concern that didn’t seem to trouble him in 1998, when he supported Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He argued that Democrats shouldn’t accuse Trump of bribery for his Ukraine shakedown unless it meets the statutory definition, even though a 2014 Washington Post op-ed essay by one Jonathan Turley made clear that criminal statutes aren’t controlling in the impeachment process.

“While there’s a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” he wrote then, when he was discussing whether there were grounds for impeaching Barack Obama.

So there was no reason for Democrats to take Turley seriously when he argued that the impeachment investigation was too truncated, and that more effort should have been made to coerce testimony from key figures like Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and John Bolton, his former national security adviser.

Nevertheless, I wish they had. Democrats had little to lose by taking their time excavating the full record of Trump’s wrongdoing before turning impeachment over for trial to the Republican-controlled Senate.

But that debate became moot on Thursday morning, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she had instructed House investigators to begin drawing up articles of impeachment. Now the question is what those articles will contain. A central point of contention is whether the articles will include Trump’s obstruction of justice in Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. It is vitally important that they do.

It is understandable that Democrats from swing districts, whose constituents weren’t persuaded to back impeachment by the Mueller report, don’t want to revisit the murky events of 2016. But to make clear the full gravity of what Trump tried to do in Ukraine, Democrats need to demonstrate that it was part of a pattern.

As the Mueller report showed, the Trump campaign welcomed Russian interference in 2016, expecting that “it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” Then Trump repeatedly tried to obstruct the federal government’s investigation into what Russia had done. It was only the day after Mueller’s congressional testimony that Trump made his demand of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Part of that demand was that Ukraine help Trump obscure Russia’s role in his election by falsely implicating itself. Once the scheme became public, Trump obstructed Congress’s investigation into his solicitation of foreign election assistance.

Either Mueller’s findings or the Ukraine “drug deal,” as Bolton reportedly called it, would merit impeachment on its own. But the urgency of Democrats’ impeachment process — the subject of much bad-faith caterwauling on the right — is best justified by Trump’s recidivism. Impeachment isn’t just about holding Trump accountable for a discrete scandal. It’s about trying, against the odds, to stop an ongoing campaign to subvert the 2020 election, one that is building on tactics from 2016.

Indeed, even as the Judiciary Committee discussed impeachment, Giuliani was in Ukraine seeking meetings with corrupt former prosecutors who, he apparently hoped, would undercut the Democrats’ case. A day before that, Giuliani had been in Budapest where he met with another disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, as well as with Andrii V. Artemenko, a pro-Russian former member of Ukraine’s Parliament.

Artemenko’s name might be familiar to those who have followed Trump’s Russia scandal closely. He was the one who reportedly gave Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, a Russia-friendly “peace plan” for Russia and Ukraine, which Cohen transmitted to Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security adviser. Artemenko, The New York Times reported in 2017, “sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine.” He had claimed to have evidence of corruption by Ukraine’s president at the time, Petro Poroshenko, a pro-Western figure he was trying to oust. “Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides” to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, The Times said.

To understand the sociopathic shamelessness of Giuliani seeking Artemenko’s help with Trump’s current domestic political problems, you have to understand how the Russia scandal and the Ukraine scandal intersect.

Given America’s political polarization, public opinion on impeachment is unlikely to move much no matter what Democrats do. Nevertheless, they would be mad to let centrist trepidation stop them from making the strongest possible case for Trump’s removal. Doing that requires a willingness to put Trump’s Ukraine corruption in context.

Democrats have only one chance to impeach the most corrupt and disloyal president in American history. They say they’re rushing through it because it can’t wait. They have a duty to explain not just why Trump betrayed America when he sought to extort election help from Ukraine, but how we know that he’ll nearly certainly try the same thing again.

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.