The case for impeachment | Editorial
The House has enough reason to justify the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump speaks Thursday during the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks Thursday during the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) [ EVAN VUCCI | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 13, 2019

With reluctance, we conclude the U.S. House of Representatives has enough reason to justify the impeachment of President Donald Trump. We harbor no illusions that the president’s impeachment by the House will lead to his removal from office by the Senate. But we hope the impeachment process and a trial in the Senate will give voters a more complete picture of Trump’s conduct, because they will deliver the ultimate judgment on his performance in November.

The House Judiciary Committee wisely limited the impeachment charges to abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They focus exclusively on Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine and his efforts to undermine the House’s impeachment inquiry. The fundamental facts presented by the House through witness testimony and documents are not in dispute by the president or his key supporters.

At Trump’s direction, this summer the administration bottled up $391 million that Congress had approved for military and security assistance to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Trump kept brushing aside efforts by the president of Ukraine to arrange a meeting at the White House. Ukraine, under the shadow and constant threat from Russia, was desperate for the financial assistance and the public display of support.

The rough transcript of the July 25 telephone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president makes clear what Trump wanted as a “favor.’’ He wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a key Democratic opponent, and into work Biden’s son had performed for a Ukraine gas company. He also continued to press for an investigation into the discredited claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, even though the nation’s intelligence community and Congress concluded Russia was behind the interference.

Trump contends the July telephone call was “perfect’’ and there was no quid pro quo. But documents and testimony by former and current Trump administration officials show a direct connection. The evidence is clear: The president withheld financial assistance and public support in an attempt to force Ukraine to announce investigations of a political rival and to advance a false narrative about interference in the 2016 election.

By itself, this attempt to extract personal political favors from a foreign country in return for American support merits impeachment. That effort undermined America’s national security, because it put Ukraine’s fragile democracy at greater risk. Trump put his own political interests ahead of America’s foreign policy.

Trump’s supporters essentially argue no harm, no foul. They point out that the financial assistance eventually was released to Ukraine and that the investigations Trump sought never were announced. But the financial aid was released in September only after the administration got wind of a whistleblower’s complaint and congressional committees had announced investigations. The persistent attacks on the anonymous whistleblower by the president and his supporters ring hollow. The House confirmed through documents and public testimony virtually all of the whistleblower’s initial concerns.

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While the president insists he has done nothing wrong, he has obstructed the House’s efforts to get at the truth. The administration refuses to supply documents and instructed current and former officials not to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Those who have testified drew criticism and were intimidated by the president and his supporters. This is a direct affront to the separation of powers and a co-equal branch of government established by the U.S. Constitution. Trump’s defiance left the House leadership with little choice but to pursue impeachment.

The timing and circumstances are not ideal. Less than a year from the election, one option would have been to leave Trump’s conduct to the judgment of the voters. Congress also could have waited for the courts to decide whether key witnesses, such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, must comply with congressional subpoenas to testify -– or whether the White House can assert a broad claim of executive privilege. But those cases could take months or years to make it through the courts, and Congress has a constitutional obligation to hold a president’s corrupt actions in check.

It would be better if the impeachment had bipartisan support in Congress and among the voters. Unfortunately, the voters and Congress remain sharply divided along partisan lines. The House’s judgment also has been diminished by some Democrats who were eager to find any fault with Trump the moment he was elected. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves credit for resisting earlier calls for impeachment and insisting on a narrow approach now.

Given the clear evidence about Trump’s actions and his obstruction of the House investigation, a reasonable case for impeachment has been made. A Senate trial conducted in a bipartisan fashion that includes cooperation from the president and key administration witnesses would provide further clarity. Ultimately, the voters will deliver the final verdict on this president in November, and they deserve the facts.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news