Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Trump admits to high crimes even while complaining about impeachment

In a breaking news alert the NY Times reports that President Trump confirmed that he delayed aid to Ukraine before a call in which he pressed its leader to investigate Joe Biden. He blamed Europe.

President Trump said Monday that he held up American aid to Ukraine that has become the subject of furious controversy because European countries have not paid their fair share to support the country, and pointed to the fact that the money was eventually released as evidence that he had done nothing wrong.

The longer report is here.

That’s gibberish from the master gibberer. Congress should insist on the complete and unmodified whistle blower report to the DNI.

The knee-jerk reaction, perhaps having been primed by the Russian interference in the last election, is to charge Trump with bribery and extortion.

See this piece by Barbara McQuade in The Daily Beast: If Whistleblower Is Right, Trump May Have Committed Extortion and Bribery. The president supposedly dangled millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv investigating Joe Biden. That looks a lot like old-fashioned corruption.

But these are legal terms that may not even apply if Trump were not president.

Writing in Politico, Renato Mariotti, the Legal Affairs Columnist and former federal prosecutor makes the case for impeachment (and against prosecution of garden variety crimes). Trump Didn’t Bribe Ukraine. It’s Actually Worse Than That. Mislabeling what the president has done could make impeachment more difficult to achieve. (h/t AZ Blue Meanie)

It’s easy to see why Trump’s alleged conduct has generated outrage and why lay people have rushed to describe it as categorically criminal. Using presidential power to withhold aid to a nation that was recently invaded by Russia unless its investigates your political rival sounds like the definition of a criminal quid pro quo. The possibility that Trump pressured another nation to interfere in the next presidential election on his behalf—not long after the completion of a multiyear investigation into interference in the 2016 presidential election by Russia on his behalf—is jaw-dropping.

But the impulse to label this as a potential crime, as many respected former prosecutors and legal analysts have done, is flawed legally and even strategically. Even if true, this is not a case that would end up in a criminal proceeding even if Trump were no longer in office.

What Trump is alleged to have done is not a garden variety crime; it’s worse. It involved misusing $250 million in aid appropriated by Congress for his benefit—the kind of gross misconduct that easily clears the bar of high crimes and misdemeanors set by the Constitution when impeaching a president. Which means the best way to hold Trump accountable for that misconduct isn’t a criminal trial; it’s for Congress to impeach him.

Pursuing criminal cases that won’t stand legal scrutiny, or arguing that Trump has violated a criminal statute, risks undermining that goal.

First, it gives the false impression that this is something the criminal justice system can deal with. But the criminal system is not built to handle misconduct by a president who is acting corruptly through the use of his or her immense constitutional powers in this manner.

Second, it suggests that if critics can point out that it is not really bribery or extortion, then it is not a huge problem, which is not true. This is already happening, as allies of the president assert that there was no explicit quid pro quo.

Third, it may give the public a false impression about what happened. Impeachment in many respects is a political act, and that means Congress needs public support to pursue it. Anything that confuses or fails to convince the public is therefore counterproductive.

Finally, it understates the magnitude of the alleged misconduct. Labeling Trump’s alleged conduct as “bribery” or “extortion” cheapens what is alleged to have occurred and does not capture what makes it wrongful. It’s not a crime—it’s a breach of the president’s duty to not use the powers of the presidency to benefit himself. And he invited a foreign nation to influence the 2020 presidential election on the heels of a nearly three-year investigation that proved Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

No one should expect law enforcement to act if our elected representatives are unwilling to do so.

Now anything that delays impeachment is evidence of our lawmakers’, both Democrat and Republican, failure to do their duty under our Constitution. No more self-serving foot-dragging. Impeachment now!

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