Mounting evidence of Ukraine quid pro quo
New testimony from a top National Security Council official punched holes in President Trump’s defenses against impeachment this week, as House Democrats planned a vote to formalize their investigation and begin its “public-facing phase.” Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Army officer and the NSC’s top Ukraine expert, told House investigators that he listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked for “a favor”—investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and a 2016 conspiracy theory. After the call, Vindman told a White House lawyer that he thought Trump’s request was improper. He also tried to restore portions of the call’s transcript that the White House cut, including references to Biden and a Ukrainian company that had employed his son, but was allowed to make only limited changes. Vindman also said he complained after a July 10 meeting at which the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told Ukrainian officials they needed to launch investigations into the Bidens to get a long-hoped-for meeting with Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the vote to authorize the next phase of the inquiry, due to take place after The Week went to press, would “eliminate any doubt” about the investigation’s legitimacy. To protest the private nature of the inquiry, 20 House Republicans last week barged into a secure hearing room where a Pentagon official was about to testify. Meanwhile, The New York Times undercut Trump’s contention that a quid pro quo could not have existed because Ukraine was not aware that $391 million in U.S. military aid had been frozen. The Times reported that Ukrainian officials knew of the aid’s suspension by early August.
What the editorials said
The House vote “is the right step,” said the New York Daily News. Several weeks of “powerful private testimony” have clearly shown that Trump manipulated U.S. foreign policy to boost his electoral chances in 2020. Now is the time for Democrats to move from the investigative stage—which, like a grand jury, largely takes place behind closed doors—“and begin making the case to the public.”Republicans should take that as vindication, said The Wall Street Journal. Pelosi knows that the secretive depositions made the impeachment inquiry “look like a partisan railroad job,” which is why she’s pushing them into the public. “Impeachment isn’t run-of-the-mill oversight,” and it “deserves a process that will be seen as fair by most Americans.”
What the columnists said
Vindman’s “testimony is devastating to Trump,” said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. This highly credible witness—he’s an Iraq War veteran with 20 years of military and civilian service—has exposed numerous Trump administration falsehoods. Trump said the transcript was a word-for-word account of the call; we now know it was edited. Sondland claimed he took no part in any discussions in which the quid pro quo was challenged; we now know he did. How did Trump’s allies respond to all this? With slander. On cable TV, they suggested that Vindman, who was born in Kiev, was a double agent for Ukraine. Never mind that he left Ukraine at age 3 and has spent his life serving America. Vindman’s accusers have stooped to calumny because they “have no facts or law on their side.”
Here’s the fundamental problem with the impeachment inquiry, said David Marcus in TheFederalist.com: “There was no crime.” Yes, the administration briefly delayed military aid to Ukraine, but it was flowing again by early September, and Ukraine never launched an investigation into the Bidens. Trump “might have wanted something to happen that was unethical and illegal.” But if he didn’t actually go ahead and make it happen, then there’s no impeachable offense.
Crying “no harm no foul” just doesn’t cut it, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. With all of his defenses blown up—It was a perfect call! I wanted to crack down on Ukrainian corruption generally!—Trump should admit wrongdoing and ask the nation for forgiveness. He might forestall impeachment by liberating his supporters to say, “It was wrong, but he said he’s sorry. Move on.” A little contrition will go a long way. But “the longer the president defends a lie, the more Americans will resent being lied to.” ■