The Essential Impeachment Question

Is it permissible for a sitting president of the United States to bring pressure to bear on a foreign leader to investigate a political rival of the president for the sole purpose of casting that rival in a negative light?

That is the essential question members of the House of Representatives and Senate must answer for themselves as they confront the impeachment investigation now fully underway in the House. Those who have weighed in thus far on this point include a number of Republican legislators, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham (“If you bring articles of impeachment based on this phone call, I think you’re nuts”) and Iowa’s Joni Ernst (“I’ve looked at the transcript; I don’t see anything there”).

Note: Trump and his defenders never claimed that enlisting a foreign power to intervene in our elections was permissible—only that his campaign had nothing to do with it. Now, he is freely admitting to doing exactly that—and releasing a transcript that proves it. 

Much is being made by the president’s defenders that there was no overt quid pro quo from Trump to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tying an impending foreign aid package to Zelensky’s commitment to investigate Biden.

While that much is true, President Trump, wise at least in the ways of influence and pressure, makes plentiful reference to how “very very good” the U.S. has been to Ukraine, despite that goodness not being “reciprocal.”

Zelensky then expresses his appreciation for that support by including the fact that his country has been buying American oil, is prepared to “buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes,” and that last time he was in the U.S. he stayed at Trump Tower in New York.

Trump responds:

“Good. Well, thank you very much and I appreciate that. I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call. Thank you. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out.”

So not only is Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani involved in the now internationalized quest to “get to the bottom” of digging up dirt on Biden and his son, Hunter, whose involvement in Ukrainian politics has been shown to be completely above board, but even the sitting U.S. Attorney General has been enlisted in the effort to discredit what polls are currently saying would be Trump’s most formidable 2020 competitor. (The fact that Attorney General Barr has apparently already signed on to this effort tells us everything we need to know about what is supposed to be his office’s “independence” from the executive branch.)

So: no specific quid pro quo. (No, “If you consent to investigating Biden, I will release this $400 million aid package that has been on my desk for a couple of weeks.”)

Plentiful indication of what Trump is expecting Zelensky to do. (”…whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”)

Plentiful indication from Zelensky that he perfectly understands Trump’s expectation.

“We are already working on cooperation. We are buying American oil but I am very hopeful for a future meeting. We will have more time and more opportunities to discuss these opportunities and get to know each other better. I would like to thank you very much for your support.”

And the thing is: None of that matters.

Whether or not there was a quid pro quo, specific or veiled, is not pertinent to the central, overarching question: Should the president of the United States enlist foreign powers to help influence an American presidential election?

Didn’t we just conclude a multi-year investigation regarding that issue, and wasn’t Trump’s entire defense the endlessly repeated mantra that there was “no collusion!” between his campaign and Russia, whose effort to influence the 2016 election was exhaustively chronicled by U.S. intelligence agencies?

Note: Trump and his defenders never claimed that enlisting a foreign power to intervene in our elections was permissible—only that his campaign had nothing to do with it. 

Now, he is freely admitting to doing exactly that—and releasing a transcript that proves it, with the apparent expectation that Republicans and even Democrats would readily see that there was nothing untoward, unethical, unseemly and least of all impeachable in his actions.

So: Are such actions by a sitting U.S. president permissible, allowable, just another day in the life of rough-and-tumble politics, nothing to see here, let’s just keep moving along?

How Senate and House members, and in a much larger and more important sense, the American electorate, comes down on that issue will tell us much about the state of our increasingly fragile democracy as we turn the corner toward an undoubtedly tumultuous 2020.


Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.

Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

For the officially released White House version of the call transcript between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, see here:

8 comments to The Essential Impeachment Question

  • Craig Work  says:

    Hello Andy, I notice the list of dates along the right hand side of your presentation – and I take that as confirmation that this is an archive. Is it possible to indicate subject matters with that list? Meanwhile, best wishes for you in your new home.
    Craig Work

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Hi Craig, good to hear from you, and good question. The date archive will just show you all the posts within a given month (I will soon be clumping those together within each year to make it a shorter list), but what you’re looking for is just a little further down below that list of dates, into the section under “Categories.” That’s where the different subject areas are shown: Fiction, Film, etc. Each of those categories will eventually show you the first portion of every post over the years that has been labeled within that category, with the most recent at the top of the list. Scrolling through them goes pretty quickly, and if you want to read any given one, you just click on “Read More” and up pops the entire post. Needless to say, some categories are much more extensive than others.

      Cheers back to you, and let me know if I can answer any more navigation questions or anything else that occurs to you.

  • Mary  says:

    When this story broke earlier in the week I felt both familiar outrage and hope: “Surely THIS time….”

    As the Senate Republicans begin their straight-faced, audacious denial that there is anything amiss I find my spirit flagging and the by now equally familiar despair-tinged fatigue setting in. Will we EVER be shed of this man? Will we be shed of him before he has destroyed everything we love and revere in this country, most especially our Constitution?

    Thank you for speaking up and out, Andrew, at a time when so many are finding it difficult to summon the energy to push back, to articulate how wrong, wrong, WRONG we find this daily, cavalier disregard for basic ethics and decency.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Mary, a familiar feeling, that, and I fight the bluesy despair myself regarding it nearly every day. At other times, I find the Trump presidency only increasing a sense of deeper patriotism and love for this country, given how under siege it is, and how much more we stand to lose before we finally do shed him. I suspect the shedding is far more likely to occur next November at the ballot box rather than a Senate vote to convict on an impeachment that looks ever more likely to come from the House. If Trump somehow manages to houdini his way to another win next year, my fear for the fate of our country, well…I can’t be going there now, and don’t really want to believe it could happen.

  • Gerry Ausiello  says:

    Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she was required to call for the impeachment inquiry because of the sequence of events (withholding the appropriated funding, and then the telephone call requesting the “favor” to investigate a political opponent) – there did not need to be a quid pro quo. He has finally stepped on his own crank, which was inevitable. However, it remains to be seen if a) the Republicans will agree that he violated the law, and then b), the electorate will understand the charges. Politically, this may backfire, but I believe she had no choice.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Couldn’t agree more with your last line, Gerry. We don’t know what the end of this road looks like, lots of things could still happen, but it is part of Trump’s diabolical genius, as it were, that he very much forced this issue, and left the Dems with little choice but to proceed. They were, in a sense, screwed if they proceeded and screwed if they didn’t, because to hold off on impeachment in the face of such clear and egregious violations of his office would only further embolden Trump in the runup to the election.

    My sense of things at the moment tells me regarding your points a) and b) the following: a) I doubt very much that even two or three Republican senators will agree that he violated the law (could be zero), and b) I also doubt very much whether the electorate at large will understand the charges—or care to review them.

    Turns out Trump has never said truer words than that his base would look the other way if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. The fact that this now appears to be literally true, and not just some outlandish hyperbole to make a point, really should terrify us. But this is what we have come to. The mere fact that he can lie with impunity, in front of international bodies and hordes of reporters with countless actual facts at their fingertips, and suffer no consequences, no response from his base nor his party’s legislators, means that truth simply no longer matters, and we are living in an upside down world. How can we be anything but a democracy adrift and headed for wreck when truth-telling is no longer a value or a practice in the public square?

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    In order to produce a guilty verdict in the inevitable impeachment of Trump before the next Presidential election, four major (if not impossible) hurdles must be overcome. TIME: The clock is running out. Unlike Watergate, whose hearings opened up just five months into Richard Nixon’s second term, this present impeachment inquiry into Trump’s “mafia-like” July phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky has only 14 months left before the 2020 Presidential election. Not much time considering Watergate’s Senate Select Committee ran for 13 months. CONGRESS: During the Watergate hearings, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress which allowed them to chair the various investigations. Nixon also knew that the make-up of the impeachment jury favored the Democrats (56 to 42). Unfortunately, today the numbers are reversed; Republicans own the Senate. PARTISANSHIP: The partisanship in 1973 pales in comparison to 2019. After all, Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee, voiced the most famous line from the Watergate investigation, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Call me cynical but I doubt if Lindsay Graham will utter a similar sentiment. COURAGE: Will a White House insider like John Dean come forward and reveal the “cancer inside the Presidency?” Will the hearings produce an Alexander Butterfield “smoking gun” tape confession? Incidentally, Dean understood that his testimony would lead to disbarment and jail time. Butterfield realized as well that his disclosure would probably abort his public service career; less than two years later he was forced to resign.

    While I’m doubtful any one of these obstacles can be surmounted, I am certain of one thing– damn the politics and full speed ahead with impeachment.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes Robert, it is a sad reflection indeed when we consider a Howard Baker up and against a Lindsey Graham, or an Elliot Richardson vis a vis Bill Barr. There was a time when Republicans actually represented a coherent set of principles and policy positions, along with a commitment to civil discourse and democratic process. That has all blown up in the Trump-McConnell era. So history affords us both wisdom and tragedy, allowing us to see how far things have strayed from basic democratic norms.

Leave a Reply