• Presidential misconduct: Any Iowan with common sense knows that the transcript of the July 25 telephone conversation reveals a quid pro quo. After reminding Zelensky of U.S. efforts on behalf of Ukraine, the president complains about Ukraine’s lack of reciprocity, and when Zelensky requests missiles vital to Ukrainian defense, the President says he wants “a favor, though.” The “favor” was that Ukraine investigate the Bidens for corruption as well as a Russia-concocted falsehood that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Only the simplest of minds do not understand a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, especially when made by a self-proclaimed savvy negotiator who never does anything without getting something in return. As the president explains in “The Art of the Deal,” no negotiation should be attempted in the absence of leverage, which is “something the other guy wants or has to have or best of all, can’t do without.”
But there is more. After July 25, the president and his personal lawyer pressed Zelensky to make a public announcement of Ukraine’s investigation of the Bidens, and the Trump administration informed Zelensky the congressionally approved aid would be withheld until he committed to making a public announcement.
It was thus not an investigation that the president wanted from Zelensky, but, rather, a public announcement of an investigation — something that could only have the purpose of tainting a likely political rival in the upcoming election. Moreover, when the president attempted to pressure Zelensky into making an announcement by delaying the promised military aid for two months, he adversely affected our national security interests by hindering a key ally’s ability to defend itself and negotiate with its oppressor.
More than 500 law professors have signed a letter, finding the evidence against the president overwhelming. The Ukrainians, who are neither foolish nor naive, undoubtedly knew the score. So should the U.S. Senate.
• Facts not motives: When the president and his defense team decry that Democrats are simply out to “get” him, Sen. Grassley knows it is a feint. In responding to a claim that Republicans were just out to “get” President Clinton by impeaching him, Sen. Grassley noted the president “is in this predicament because of his own private wrongdoing.”
Facts, as Sen. Grassley noted, are the proper focus of impeachment proceedings, not motives of a political party. Consider a prosecutor who has long wanted to charge and try a person whom he believes has committed various crimes over a period of time. If the prosecutor finally files a criminal charge against the person, of what relevance is prosecutorial motive when the evidence at trial establishes criminal conduct? The fact is a crime was committed. The criminal does not get a Get Out of Jail card just because the prosecutor was out to “get” him.
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• Removal from office: Former Harvard Law Professor Dershowitz of the president’s defense team has insisted that removal from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” requires commission of a crime. Having argued during the Clinton impeachment proceedings that removal does not require commission of a crime, Professor Dershowitz has flip-flopped 180 degrees.
The letter from the 500-plus law professors has expressed unanimity that no crime is required for removal. The expert relied upon by House Republicans, Professor Turley, has conceded that the use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate a political opponent is an impeachable offense. Finally, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein and those few scholars who specialize in impeachment have determined that removal does not require commission of a crime, but, instead, elevation of personal interests over America’s interests.
Sen. Ernst has already recognized that the view of Professor Sunstein — by far the most frequently cited American legal scholar — is correct. As a senatorial candidate she promised she would vote to remove President Barack Obama from office not for committing any crime, but for allegedly abusing his constitutional appointment power.
And so, does this president’s misconduct, criminal or not, warrant his removal from office? Professor Dershowitz, who insists presidents can do whatever they want as long as they believe it is in the national interest, says no. He and Professor Turley are outliers. The website Medium lists 2,000-plus historians joining the 500-plus law professors who say yes.
For an impartial juror there can be no other answer but yes. Through an appalling quid pro quo the president sought assistance from a foreign government to influence our democratic processes, and by delaying critical military aid to a foreign ally (in violation of federal law) he adversely affected our national security interests.
While the president has urged the Senate to let the voters in 2020 judge his Ukrainian dealings, he cannot promise a fair election. He has made no promise to avoid approaching foreign individuals, groups or governments to help him win reelection. Indeed, he has recently invited China — China! — to investigate the Bidens. He has learned nothing from these impeachment proceedings. This is simply astounding. It is also dangerous to our republic.
• Past and present: Sen. Grassley voted to convict President Clinton on facts that, unlike now, never implicated our national security interests, our elections, our right to vote, our democracy.
Sen. Ernst promised a vote to remove President Barack Obama from office for “blatant abuse of power” if the Supreme Court found he acted without authority in making recess appointments. In subsequently finding he lacked authority to make four of his appointments, the Court emphasized that reasonable minds could disagree on the scope of this presidential power given the Constitution’s ambiguity on the issue.
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Past positions should guide present action as a matter of principle. If President Clinton was unfit to remain in office for his private misconduct and President Barack Obama unfit to remain in office for something that reasonable minds could disagree upon, then President Donald Trump surely is unfit to remain in office for his much more egregious and much less debatable public misconduct. Voting to keep him in office will only signal hypocrisy and partisanship of the vilest sort.
In view of the foregoing, I respectfully urge you to advocate for and vote to convict the president. For, in truth, that is the only possible course of action for people of conscience, integrity, honor, and principle.
Bruce Kempkes is a lawyer in Iowa.