This is how to hold a corrupt president accountable

This is how to hold a corrupt president accountable
© Greg Nash

As the impeachment inquiry moves to the House Judiciary Committee this week, it is a good time to take a step back to understand what these rare and somber hearings mean for the country.

Republicans are on a tear, doing everything they can to delegitimize the inquiry, accusing Democrats of being unfair, of participating in a “witch hunt,” of not letting the president and his lawyers defend him against this barrage of unfair allegations.  

They invoke the Constitution as they smear the Democrats for enabling a divisive impeachment process that will fail to garner even one Republican vote in the House.


They minimize what Trump did, dismissing his abuse of power as merely unseemly or “inappropriate.” They claim that it by no means rises to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as is required by the Constitution, and that it in no way merits impeachment, much less removal. 

Let’s stick to the facts and leave conjecture, partisan spin and conspiracy theories to one side for a moment.  

It is clear to all but the most tribal of Trump loyalists that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his biggest domestic political rival in exchange for the release of millions of dollars of crucial military aid and a coveted White House meeting. Almost everything we have heard in two weeks of witness testimony and documents has corroborated the quid pro quo. It's what the House Intelligence Committee concluded in its highly anticipated report, released Tuesday.

Republicans say that what the president did is not impeachable. If it is not, what, in their eyes, would be? If President Obama had engaged in the same egregious conduct, would Republicans be singing the same tune?

I assure you not. I know they would have impeached Obama weeks ago if not months. 

The Constitution says impeachment is merited when a president commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The term is not limited to “indictable criminality,” as Trump and his supporters would have us believe. The framers use this term loosely, to be applied much more politically than legally


The term covers egregious abuses of power and corruption by leaders, so as to protect the governed from political ambition gone off the rails. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton argues that impeachment can “proceed from … the abuse or violation of some public trust.” 

Trump’s actions fit this bill.

Republicans complain that Democrats cannot bring impeachment to the floor on a purely partisan vote. 

Who says they can’t? 

The Constitution says no such thing.   

It seems the founders had a preternatural sense that at some point in our nation’s history, one party would become so overtaken by the cult of personality of a corrupt leader that they would surrender all judgment and backbone in the service of that leader, and that it would take the guts and valor of the other party, without regard to what it may mean politically, to hold that leader to account, as is their constitutional duty. 

That’s exactly what Democrats are doing.

If Trump is impeached, it will be only the 3rd time in our nation’s history that a U.S. president has been impeached.

It is no doubt the most serious of political proceedings, and Democrats are treating them in the most serious manner. If only Republicans would do the same.

Instead, they are doubling down on debunked conspiracy theories and Russian-backed talking points (I am talking about you, Sen. Kennedy (R-La.) to make the case for their newest excuse. They’re arguing that Trump had reason to be concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that he was right to flag it with President Zelensky and hold up aid to ensure it would not fall into corrupt hands.


Just how stupid does Trump and the Republicans think the public is?

Very stupid, it seems.

And aren’t they concerned about how stupid it makes every person who peddles this bunk look? 

It seems not.

If Trump were truly concerned about aid falling into corrupt hands in Ukraine, since as he says, it is one of the most corrupt places on Earth, why wasn’t he concerned about it last year? Or the year before? Both years we gave Ukraine military aid during perhaps a more corrupt administration prior to Zelensky, who ran for president as an anti-corruption reformer.

I wonder if it has to do with Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Susan Rice: Trump picks Putin over troops 'even when it comes to the blood of American service members' Does Donald Trump even want a second term? MORE having announced that he would run for president in 2020?

Additionally, if Trump were so concerned about corruption in Ukraine, why would he trust a seemingly corrupt country to carry out an important investigation that, according to Trump and his acolytes, would have been in the national interest?


None of the president’s or his followers’ excuses and spin make any sense.

But that won’t stop them from belittling the process and, by extension, degrading the Constitution, if they can whittle away public trust in our institutions. It is the only way Trump can win.

That is why Democrats are less interested in how this will play out politically for them than in doing the right thing by the Constitution, by the voters, by their oaths of office and by their collective conscience. 

That is how you hold a corrupt president accountable. That is how you honor your role in a historic impeachment proceeding where nothing less than our democracy is at stake. That is how you rise to the historic moment our country faces.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.