America is about to formally enter the perilous territory of impeachment.
There are still no absolute guarantees, depending on inquiry findings, but the flow of events in recent days has taken us in this unfortunate direction.
The current controversy over a July 25 phone call President Donald Trump made to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky — an event which apparently alarmed someone within the intelligence community, who had access to the situation, enough to file a whistleblower complaint regarding the episode — has snowballed rapidly. The call made by Trump was allegedly an effort to get the Ukrainian government to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the top Democratic contenders to take on Trump during the 2020 election. If this complaint bears out, it would constitute a U.S. president reaching out to a foreign government to assist him for his own political gain.
The allegation by the person filing the whistleblower complaint never made it to Congress. It was apparently blocked by someone in the intelligence community, which may violate the whistleblower law.
Meanwhile, media reports on Monday indicated that Trump had ordered the freezing of up to $400 million in military aid to Ukraine about one week before the president made the phone call, during which he allegedly asked Zelensky up to eight times for an investigation. Again, this could be an explosive allegation with damning consequences if the two actions (the withholding of aid and the call) are connected.
Trump has admitted to making the phone call, but says it was about “corruption.” (He accuses Biden’s son, Hunter, of corruption in his Ukrainian dealings, although the Politifact website reports there is no evidence yet to support this.) What that corruption might be has not been specified, but given Trump’s subsequent remarks about Biden (the president said Monday that if a Republican did what Biden had allegedly done, “they’d be getting the electric chair right now”), the connection appears clear.
By late Monday, there seemed little choice anymore. The tide of House Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry was rising rapidly. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has resisted pursuing impeachment because of its politically explosive nature ahead of the 2020 election cycle, reportedly began sounding out Democratic leaders about whether this instance — with the president publicly admitting he made the phone call in question — was a “tipping point,” making an impeachment inquiry unavoidable.
On Tuesday, she finally relented.
Those House Democrats who have resisted impeachment, mostly out of fear of electoral fallout in 2020, now may feel they have no choice in the matter. Much of that resistance has been due to the fact that it’s hard to see an impeachment bid getting past the Republican Senate, which serves as a firewall of sorts for the president. Thus, impeachment has been viewed as a means to a dead end. However, things could change as new facts become available, as they did during the Watergate scandal in 1973-74.
It seems at this juncture there’s no choice anymore but to allow the process to move forward. There are too many disturbing questions on the table, and too many constitutional and legal ramifications to ignore.
The Constitution provides a means for pursuing the truth. An inquiry does not automatically mean an impeachment charge will be filed, and impeachment does not automatically mean conviction. But it does open the door for evidence to be gathered and presented to lawmakers and to the public.
And that’s what’s needed at this extraordinary hour. It’s what the situation requires. It’s what the constitutional viability of this country demands.