By trying to stonewall the House impeachment probe, the Trump administration has succeeded only in conferring extra weight to the accounts of government officials who have testified anyway. Those officials’ testimony — which they considered important enough to provide at the risk of losing their jobs — paints a damning picture of serious presidential misconduct that put lives and the credibility of American foreign policy at risk. The accounts leave no doubt that the House should formalize the impeachment inquiry when it votes Thursday to move toward open hearings.
The latest to testify behind closed doors was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer who appeared before Congress on Tuesday despite instructions from the White House to stay silent. Bedecked with military medals, he said the administration has pressured Ukraine to pursue an investigation into Joe Biden, a possible 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. That request for a foreign country to target a US citizen was inappropriate, he said. More important, he worried it would “undermine US national security” by mixing security matters with US partisan politics.
The narrative emerging from weeks of depositions — and from the public admission of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — is damning. It started when Congress appropriated $391 million worth of military aid to Ukraine to support a key American foreign policy objective, containing Russian aggression in Europe. Instead of spending it as Congress directed, though, Trump held up the aid — apparently as part of a sustained effort to pressure Ukraine into launching politically motivated investigations to help the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.
That is, while Ukrainian soldiers patrolled the front lines, fighting for the shared goals of both the United States and Ukraine, the president withheld American support to try to force a foreign country into political favors.
Vindman, who listened in on the now-famous July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed the president of Ukraine for an investigation into Biden, said he immediately raised concerns to his superiors. His testimony is broadly consistent with that of William Taylor, the ambassador to Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, the former top Russia official on the National Security Council. Both defied the White House to speak to Congress. It also backs up the initial complaint by an anonymous intelligence community whistle-blower.
As the evidence of abuse of power piles up, Trump’s Republican defenders have been reduced to carping about the impeachment process itself. One complaint: Unlike during the Clinton impeachment, the House hasn’t formally approved the impeachment inquiry. There is no requirement for such a vote, as a federal judge affirmed just last week. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the full House would hold a vote this Thursday setting the rules for the inquiry. Her proposed rules give the minority limited subpoena power, neutralizing one of the GOP complaints.
With that vote now looming, and more witnesses emerging every day, House Republicans can’t avoid the substance of the allegations against Trump for much longer. The president behaved in a breathtakingly corrupt manner, betrayed American foreign policy, and undermined national security. The nation’s Founders created the impeachment option because they worried about the possibility of a president who abused the powers of the office for personal gain, or compromised the national interest in his dealings with foreign countries. More than two centuries later, that is just what has happened. Thursday’s vote gives members of Congress their first formal opportunity to do the job the Founders gave them.