Even though the process would likely call for additional evidence and detail, that’s the logical thrust of the argument that Trump offered a bribe: corruptly soliciting something of value “in exchange for official action.” As it stands, the case appears straightforward, and, unlike most legal or political issues, several key underlying facts aren’t even in dispute.
Ari Melber keeps it simple. Less nuance, it’s right in the damn Constitution.
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Amid a series of House investigations, however, and several public, potentially incriminating admissions by Trump, Democrats haven’t settled on a core legal rationale for impeachment, which is striking, considering the Constitution’s answer is staring them in the face. Trump’s statements and actions with regard to Ukraine appear to fit one of the few offenses the Constitution specifically lists as impeachable:
Along with treason, it’s the only impeachable offense expressly listed in Article II, Section 4 before the catchall category, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” as a reason to impeach federal officials, who “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The legal case would be that Trump offered a bribe. He encouraged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “to do us a favor” and look into, among other things, the Biden family. Trump would later acknowledge that goal, telling reporters on Oct. 3 that he wanted Zelensky to “start a major investigation into the Bidens.” Evidence and testimony from inside the Trump administration, meanwhile, suggests that the sought after benefit — an investigation of Trump’s rival — was conditioned on U.S. government action: Administration officials have referenced apparent conditions on both a coveted White House meeting between the two leaders, and on disbursement of millions in military aid, pending Ukraine’s government announcing an investigation of the Bidens.
Most of these defenses turn on credibility. Are they corroborated, or undercut, by firsthand witnesses, the administration’s actions, and the evidence of Trump’s intent? In the end, there may be many things about the president that merit criticism, but few that merit impeachment. That is what the Founders intended when they listed only bribery, treason, and high crimes and misdemeanors as grounds for taking that step.
If Congress, pursuing impeachment, begins with the Constitution’s text, it may find bribery is the right place to focus. That’s true especially because of evidence drawn from Trump’s own words: Remarkably, the president who spent years successfully resisting an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller finds an impeachment probe rapidly escalating, in part, because of interviews he’s given, freely, sometimes standing on the White House lawn.