Yesterday, the Democrats released their report detailing why they are impeaching the president. Much of it simply lays out the well-known facts which drove us to this point, but it is a bit staggering to see it all placed together in one cohesive narrative. This is as blatant an impeachable offense as this nation has seen. President Trump and his enablers in the Republican Party engaged in a fairly unprecedented ordeal which saw them defy every law, norm and institution in existence, all in the unchecked pursuit of personal greed. This is a classic example of what “quid pro quo” means (if I hold a gun to your head and say “give me your money or I’ll pull the trigger,” that’s a quid pro quo, and that’s basically what Trump’s scheme was). Here are six excerpts that stood out in these 300 pages.
Before getting into the meat of the charges, I want to highlight a very famous quote that Adam Schiff led off with, uttered by our first president in his final speech to the nation:
In his farewell address, President George Washington warned of a moment when “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
The Framers of the Constitution well understood that an individual could one day occupy the Office of the President who would place his personal or political interests above those of the nation. Having just won hard-fought independence from a King with unbridled authority, they were attuned to the dangers of an executive who lacked fealty to the law and the Constitution.
There is a key detail missing here, and it’s what the thrust of the speech was about: political parties. That quote does indeed reflect an understanding that an individual could “place his personal or political interests above those of the nation,” but Washington was making the case that political parties are the vehicles which would incubate and protect that malfeasance. The fact that Adam Schiff cut off the beginning of the quote (“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men…”) reveals a goal of using Washington’s words to get at Trump—instead of listening to the larger systemic issues our first president was speaking to—issues that both political parties have demonstrated. This might seem like a trivial quibble, but it’s yet another example of how the Reaganesque mindset of ascribing more importance to individuals than systems has permeated our entire political discourse and made us focus on all the wrong things.
The entire case against Trump in this document can be summarized by these two sentences:
“The impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election. As described in this executive summary and the report that follows, President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign.”
“Solicit” is the key word there. This was Trump’s show from the very start. If you are opposed to impeachment, understand that your functional position is that it is perfectly reasonable for the President of the United States to subvert government policy in order to use the powers of the office to primarily benefit themselves (ie: a King). This is a line in the sand that any nation of laws must draw, because if we do not, we are telling the most powerful person in the world that they are not subject to the rules drawn up for them in our constitution. If we do not impeach Trump over this very clear violation of the oath of his office, it would send a message to all future presidents that they are above the law, and they are even encouraged to subvert the will of the people in order to further their own personal interests.
Earnestly critiquing Trump’s claims feels like detailing to an 8-year-old why Santa Claus isn’t real, but this is the President of the United States, and so his words hold value even if they make no sense. Trump has famously asserted that he and Ambassador Gordon Sondland had a call around September 9th where Trump told the ambassador carrying out his quid pro quo operation, “no quid pro quo.” This is one of his key pieces of defense (further highlighting how stupid everything is), but this paragraph in the report highlights how testimony from Sondland and Tim Morrison, Senior Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council, rebut Trump’s charge that he had a phone call specifically instructing his underlings not to do what he was ordering them to do:
Both Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Morrison, relying on their contemporaneous notes, testified that the call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump occurred on September 7, which is further confirmed by Ambassador Sondland’s own text message on September 8 in which he wrote that he had “multiple convos” with President Zelensky and President Trump. A call on September 9, which would have occurred in the middle of the night, is at odds with the weight of the evidence and not backed up by any records the White House was willing to provide Ambassador Sondland. Regardless of the date, Ambassador Sondland did not contest telling both Mr. Morrison and Ambassador Taylor of a conversation he had with the President in which the President reaffirmed Ambassador Sondland’s understanding of the quid pro quo for the military aid.
Because we live in the dumbest timeline, the most damning piece of evidence proving that Trump engaged in a blatantly illegal “quid pro quo” scheme comes from the Trump administration itself. Because Trump’s aides were not complying with subpoenas, the Democrats could not get anyone to testify that Trump personally ordered a quid pro quo, so they relied on the “perfect” call summary released by Trump, and public statements by his Chief of Staff.
During a July 25, 2019, call between President Trump and President Zelensky, President Zelensky expressed gratitude for U.S. military assistance. President Trump immediately responded by asking President Zelensky to “do us a favor though” and openly pressed for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory. In turn, President Zelensky assured President Trump that he would pursue the investigation and reiterated his interest in the White House meeting. Although President Trump’s scheme intentionally bypassed many career personnel, it was undertaken with the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to “get over it.”
Everything is so unfathomably stupid.
His last name appears 50 times in this document which makes clear that he was a key piece of this whole scheme. In fact, the House even produced these phone records proving that Nunes was contacted by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, two weeks before Trump’s first phone call with the new Ukrainian leader he would soon try to extort.
This is why I took exception to the misframing of the George Washington quote at the top. This isn’t about Trump. This is about the Republican Party and its eagerness to destroy our laws, norms and institutions in order to protect their Dear Leader. Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem.
The investigation revealed the nature and extent of the President’s misconduct, notwithstanding an unprecedented campaign of obstruction by the President and his Administration to prevent the Committees from obtaining documentary evidence and testimony. A dozen witnesses followed President Trump’s orders, defying voluntary requests and lawful subpoenas, and refusing to testify. The White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, and Department of Energy refused to produce a single document in response to our subpoenas.
What Washington feared was that political parties would become more of a job guarantee than a vehicle to deliver good policy, and that loyalty to the party would become more important than loyalty to the country. That is exactly what has happened with the entire Republican Party, as well as parts of the Democratic Party (ie: the folks who don’t want a contentious primary where we debate policy and instead want everyone to pledge complete and utter fealty to whichever candidate the establishment tells us is the one who should win).
I get why Adam Schiff used that quote, because it really does sound like George Washington rose from the dead and simply described his initial impression of Trump, but the fact that Washington absolutely nailed a Trump prediction 223 years ago is proof of his prescience of the party dynamics which emboldened Trump’s rise. If we do not see how this impeachment process highlights Washington’s fears about the inherent corrupting force of political parties, and change our behavior (or parties) to undercut this dynamic, then we are certain to repeat different variations of this process over and over again until the oceans swallow us whole.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.