Whether you like President Trump or not, it’s important to take time out from Twitter to consider the monumental significance of the big picture: We are making history, and we are rewriting the history books. Trump is only the fourth out of 45 presidents to face the possibility of impeachment by Congress. And today he stands likely to become only the third American president in our history to be impeached.
Again, like Trump or not, it’s critical for all of us to recognize the importance of the moment and consider how history will judge how we handled both aspects of the impeachment battle: both the seriousness of the issues raised against the president and the legitimacy of arguments raised in his defense.
There’s been an avalanche of claims and counterclaims surrounding Trump’s impeachment inquiry, ranging from “he’s guilty of a slam-dunk impeachable offense” to “it’s a total hoax.” But one thing is clear: Trump is accused of misdeeds far, far more serious than those leveled against either of the other two presidents impeached.
Basically, the House impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 just because they didn’t like him. They tried unsuccessfully to impeach him on various other charges, but finally rounded up enough votes for impeachment when he broke the law at the time by firing the secretary of War without consulting Congress first. Which was stupid. Of course, the president alone should have authority to hire and fire members of his Cabinet. Indeed, had that law not been changed, Trump would already have been impeached several times over.
Looking back on it now, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 was even more stupid and even more indefensible. Republicans didn’t like a lot of Clinton’s policies, but in the end, believe it or not, the Republican-controlled House under Newt Gingrich impeached the president of the United States for lying under oath about a consensual act of oral sex with another adult. I dare you to find justification for that in the Constitution.
Historians agree that the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were minor league. By contrast, Trump’s impeachment is big league. He’s accused of exactly what the Constitution warned about: abusing the powers of the presidency. And here’s the deal: There’s not doubt about what Trump did!
The facts are not in dispute. Trump himself has admitted them. Trump personally ordered that $400 million in military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for the president of Ukraine be blocked until Ukraine agreed to open two investigations. One, into already-discredited reports of corrupt business deals by former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential opponent in 2020. The second, into the totally zany idea that Ukraine, not Russia, tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. In other words, Trump invited a foreign government to intervene in an American election — which is precisely the abuse of power our Founding Fathers had in mind when they added Section 4, on impeachment, to Article II of the Constitution.
In response to which, Republicans have thrown up a blizzard of bizarre defenses, including: (1) It was Rudy Giuliani’s fault. (2) Trump never actually said the magic words “quid pro quo.” (3) Who cares? They got the money anyway. (4) Obama did even worse. (5) Yes, it was wrong, but it’s not an impeachable offense. All of which Republicans should be ashamed of hiding behind.
The final chapter is yet to be written, but this much is clear: Trump’s guilty of an impeachable offense. And Republicans have failed to defend him, because they can’t.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”