OPINION

Trump & impeachment

He may find it hard to shrug off the charge of leaning on Kiev to meddle in domestic politics

U.S. President Donald Trump discussed former Vice-President Joe Biden in a July 2019 telephone conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, allegedly in a bid to influence him to investigate the business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter. Now he faces the prospect of an impeachment inquiry. That happened, first, because of an “explosive” whistleblower complaint filed against Mr. Trump by a national security official, which also alleges that Mr. Trump used the call to “solicit interference” in the 2020 election, and that the White House then intervened to “lock down” the transcript of the call. The whistleblower added that this was “not the first time” that Trump administration officials placed presidential call transcripts in a separate, classified system. The White House further exacerbated matters when they sought to block that complaint from reaching the House Intelligence Committee. Further, Mr. Trump is said to have personally ordered his staff to freeze more than $391 million in aid to Ukraine, before his call with Mr. Zelensky, making his conditions to the Ukrainian President an outright quid pro quo. The Congress, even the Republican-controlled Senate, was having none of this. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed unanimously a resolution calling for the White House to release the whistleblower complaint. Capitol Hill has now got both the memo of the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky and the complaint, whose allegations House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff described as “deeply disturbing and very credible.”

It was in this backdrop that Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an inquiry into impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, to begin after she meets with colleagues next week. Neither the complaint nor the edited transcript of the call are exculpatory of Mr. Trump. Even the edited memo of the call makes clear that Mr. Trump is linking the payment of military aid to Ukraine to Mr. Zelensky agreeing to investigate Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company. This, despite Ukraine’s public prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, saying that he had no evidence of wrongdoing by the younger Biden. Contrarily, Mr. Trump may find it hard to shrug off the prospect of an ignominious impeachment. At least 140 House Democrats and one Independent have said that they would support impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump for leaning on a foreign power to meddle in domestic politics, which would constitute a betrayal of the oath of office and compromise of national security. Ultimately the inquiry leading to such an outcome would turn on whether there is, in the complaint, a “smoking gun” of the kind that brought down Richard Nixon.

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