Marie L. Yovanovitch and George P. Kent have good jobs as senior American diplomats. Presumably, they don’t want to lose them. But over the last week both put their livelihood at risk rather than participate in White House efforts to conceal the truth from Congress and the American people. Against the wishes of the Trump administration, the two showed up on Capitol Hill and talked to the House impeachment inquiry about the president’s outrageous efforts to pressure Ukraine’s government to help his political campaign.
Their acts of individual courage should inspire — or maybe shame — other senior officials whose cooperation Congress needs as the impeachment inquiry accelerates. They, too, will have to decide whether to take part in the administration’s attempts to stonewall Congress, or risk their job to do the right thing. The administration’s vow not to cooperate is not only reckless and unconstitutional, but also creates the strong impression that the president — and any officials who bow to his wishes — has something to hide.
So far, at least two other current officials appear ready to stick their necks out: European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Whatever the two tell Congress in their depositions, just the simple act of showing up would be a rebuke to the president’s obstruction strategy. In addition to the current diplomats, several former officials have also testified or are scheduled to appear. And an unknown official triggered the inquiry in the first place, by filing a whistle-blower complaint.
The details they’ve provided paint a damning picture of presidential malfeasance. For much of this year, President Trump and his attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, have pushed Ukraine to launch an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, on spurious corruption grounds. The clear purpose was to conjure up a fake scandal that Trump could then use to hammer Biden if he becomes the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Using the power of the presidency to help himself is a clear abuse of power. At the same time, the president was withholding desperately needed military aid to Ukraine; if the investigation establishes a link between the demands for a Biden investigation and the holdup of aid, it would make the scandal still worse.
Conducting foreign policy for personal benefit is exactly the kind of abuse of power the Founders had in mind when they created the impeachment power. It exists to protect the country from corrupt rulers. If Congress fails to act on evidence of Trump’s misconduct, it gives a green light for the president again to subordinate foreign policy to his own ends. That is, if he hasn’t done so already: The way the president bartered foreign policy in Ukraine raises the question of whether any of his other puzzling foreign policy decisions — such as abruptly abandoning America’s Kurdish allies in Syria — have self-interested motivations.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are among the officials whose cooperation the House is seeking. They should provide it, with or without Trump’s permission.
Ultimately, fact-finding will have to yield to decisions. By giving Congress impeachment power, the Constitution entrusts its members with the responsibility of protecting the country from a rogue president. That task will fall to Democrats and Republicans, many of whom fear the political consequences of breaking with a man beloved by the GOP base. Republican senators have good jobs. Presumably, they don’t want to lose them. But real public servants and patriots take risks on behalf of the country they’re sworn to serve.