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Trump & Impeachment

Photo By: washingtonpost.com

10-1-2019

Mason Bennett, S&T Editor

A new political controversy arose in the United States involving Donald Trump and foreign national leaders last week. Trump's political opponents accuse him of using the powers of his presidential position to bully Ukraine into digging up damaging information on his main political rival, Joe Biden. Trump and his supporters claim that Biden pressured Ukraine to back away from a criminal investigation that could incriminate his own son. Given that Biden is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump next year, it is safe to say that the next head of the White House is at stake. This has raised many questions about the legal and ethical behaviors of President Trump, as well as allegations against a political rival, which has ultimately led to an impeachment inquiry.

This all stemmed from a phone conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky in July this year. A paraphrased transcript of the call shows that Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice-President Biden and his son, who was a board member for a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian leader. Many politicians believe Trump is using military funds to bargain for aid from Ukraine, since the call came after the Trump administration had withheld the funds until late September. Following these accusations, Trump claims he has done nothing wrong, calling the impeachment proceedings a “joke.” Furthermore, he accused Democrats of themselves threatening Zelensky by withholding their votes on laws affecting Ukraine, and says this controversy was fabricated in order to distract from Trump's meetings at the United Nations.

Democrats say that the phone call—discovered through a whistleblower complaint—is proof that Trump imposed unnecessary pressure on a foreign power for personal political gain. On the other hand, several Republicans came forward after the release of the partial transcript of the call to defend Trump. This demonstrates the party-centric nature of this controversy; despite the fact that Trump has been fooling around in muddy water on a multitude of occasions throughout his presidency, 40 percent of Americans and the vast majority of republicans still support Trump and his endeavors as president of the United States.

With that, this conversation begs the question: did Trump do something illegal? Further, did he commit an impeachable offense? Well, the most significant allegation is that the president pressured a foreign leader for damaging information about a political opponent all the while withholding military aid. But, is that illegal? There has been some debate over whether soliciting research into a political opponent from a foreign government constitutes a campaign finance violation, but Robert Mueller declined to file charges upon the completion of the Mueller Report, so the answer to that question is still up for debate. Regardless, the Mueller case does set a very recent precedent. Trump's call with the Ukrainian leader could also be interpreted as breaking federal bribery statutes. The special counsel concluded that Justice Department policy guidelines prohibit a current president from being indicted, however, so even if Trump did commit a punishable crime with this recent controversy, he is safe at the moment from prosecution.

Did Trump commit an impeachable offense? For a president who committed illegal or unethical acts to be deemed impeachment, the process requires the majority of the House of Representatives vote. Removal from office, on the other hand, requires a two-thirds majority of the US Senate. Moreover, the US constitution defines the grounds for impeachment as "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” At the end of the day, an “impeachable offense” is whatever a majority of the House says it is.