Impeaching Donald Trump is not enough. The case for conviction

<span>Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Media</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Media

Donald Trump has been impeached. For the sake of American democracy and national security, the Senate must convict and remove him from office.

The articles of impeachment make a powerful and clear case: The president abused his power, extorting Ukraine to help Trump’s campaign by fabricating smears about his potential political opponent and withholding US assistance from Ukraine until the campaign help was received. Then, when the House of Representatives began investigating the president’s actions, the president engaged in obstruction of Congress by ordering the executive branch not to comply with congressional subpoenas.

The facts – as made clear by the record of the call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, witness testimony, and the evidence compiled by the House intelligence and judiciary committees – indisputably back up the accusations made in the articles.

And while the impeachment is focused on Trump’s actions on Ukraine, the reasons why he must be convicted and removed from office go far beyond this incident. As the articles of impeachment state: “President Trump … has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office …” Ukraine was not Trump’s first attempt to get foreign help for his campaign; it was “consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in United States elections.”

Trump’s scheme is to get foreign countries to help his re-election campaign, and if he gets away with it, he will undermine the upcoming election

First was Russia. Let’s recall: Trump aided the efforts of a foreign power – Russia – to attack and undermine America’s 2016 election in order to help himself win; Trump publicly asked Russia to hack the emails of his campaign opponent, which Russia did later that very day; Trump’s campaign met with Russian representatives to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton; and then Trump repeatedly obstructed the investigation into the collusion. Special counsel Robert Mueller outlined it all in his report.

While Mueller was finalizing his investigation, Trump and his associates were in the midst of an effort to extort Ukraine into smearing Trump’s potential political rival, former vice-president Joe Biden. The day after Mueller testified before Congress, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” to smear Biden and resuscitate a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. Trump enlisted US government officials to pressure Ukraine by withholding US military assistance and a White House meeting with the new Ukrainian president until Ukraine announced an investigation that would help Trump.

Then, in the midst of the Ukraine scandal, Trump asked China to help his campaign by investigating Biden. Turns out Trump may have been asking China for this help for a while, with one report stating that Trump discussed Biden with Chinese president Xi Jinping and an informal Trump adviseor on China claiming that he discussed the issue with Chinese officials. You heard that right: the president of the United States also asked perhaps America’s greatest geopolitical competitor to help his re-election campaign.

While asking for campaign help from foreigners is against the law – and a grave abuse of power – it is part of Trump’s playbook. If the Senate does not convict and remove him from office, he is likely to continue doing it, just as he has continued doing it during the impeachment process – Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, visited Ukraine again this month to continue the attempt to get foreign campaign help for Trump.

This impeachment process is not just about Trump’s abuse of power – it’s also about preserving the integrity of the 2020 election. Trump’s scheme is to get foreign countries to help his re-election campaign, and if he gets away with it, he will undermine the upcoming election. The House judiciary committee’s impeachment report makes clear that Trump’s actions undercut the very fundamentals of American democracy: “Foreign interference in the American political system was among the gravest dangers feared by the founders of our Nation and the Framers of our Constitution.” And if Trump gets away with this, what will stop other politicians from soliciting foreign help?

Not convicting Trump would be devastating for our national security. More than once Trump has sold out America for personal gain and shown that he is willing to keep doing it. Trump’s actions are an open invitation to America’s adversaries to attempt to erode US national security for the price of advancing Trump’s personal interests.

Key members of the congressional GOP seem to have made their decision to stick by Trump no matter how great his sins. And perhaps the outcome of a trial is a foregone conclusion. But even if the trial does not end in conviction, it can achieve many things: it can make clear to the American people how dangerous Trump’s actions are; it can reveal further information about Trump’s misdeeds by demanding testimony from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security adviser John Bolton, or information about the involvement of two indicted individuals, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, in the Ukraine scandal; and it can force senators to decide whether they are loyal to a single man or to the constitution and the public interest.

Most of all, a Senate trial will show that there are consequences for presidents who abuse their power. Even if he is not removed from office, a trial can help instill some faith that the foundations of our democracy are not completely broken and send a signal to the world that America is fighting back against those who would undermine it from within.