WASHINGTON — Even the threat of impeachment hasn’t stopped President Trump from pressuring Ukraine into helping his 2020 election chances.
That was a key point House Democrats raised as they laid out their case for impeaching the president during a Monday hearing at the House Judiciary Committee. Their evidence: Rudy Giuliani’s recent trip to Ukraine, where Trump’s personal attorney broadcasted his attempts to dig up dirt on his political foes.
“Let me remind you that the president’s personal lawyer spent the last week in Ukraine, meeting with government officials in an apparent attempt to gin up the same so-called favors that brought us here today,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in his opening statement. “This pattern of conduct represents a continuing risk to the country.”
Nadler was quickly followed by House Intelligence Committee Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman, who called Trump’s ongoing behavior a “clear and present danger” to American democracy.
“The allegations about Vice President Biden, and the 2016 election, are patently false. But that did not deter President Trump during his phone call with the Ukrainian president. And it does not appear to deter him today,” Goldman said, pointing out that just days ago Trump said he wanted Giuliani to report his findings to Congress and the Department of Justice.
“President Trump's persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections, and to our national security,” Goldman continued.
That point lends urgency to Democrats’ swift push to remove Trump from office, and further highlights the glaring party-line divide on the issue. Democrats warn that if Trump is left unchecked, he and his team will continue to try to undermine the legitimacy of the next election. Most of Trump’s Republican defenders, meanwhile, have refused to admit he did anything wrong. But even those who concede his actions weren’t perfect say they don’t rise to an impeachable offense, and argue that voters should be the ones to decide Trump’s fate in the 2020 election.
Their blanket defense has only emboldened Trump. On Saturday, the president threw his weight behind Giuliani, saying he believed his personal attorney “has a lot of good information.”
“He’s going to make a report, I think to the attorney general and to Congress. He says he has a lot of good information. I have not spoken to him about that information yet,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday. “He has not told me what he found, but I think he wants to go before Congress… and also to the attorney general and the Department of Justice. I hear he has found plenty.”
Even with all the heat on him, Giuliani has refused to back away from his push to collect evidence that Biden did something wrong in Ukraine. He returned there last week, declared without evidence that he’ll prove soon that Biden and President Obama “contributed to the increased level of corruption in Ukraine between 2014 to 2016,” and on Monday promised to release his findings to congressional Republicans sometime later this week.
Republicans may be united in defending their president, but some are wary of Giuliani’s ongoing acts. It remains to be seen whether they'll rally around his claims to try to damage Biden — or whether they'll pretend it doesn’t exist as they look to defend Trump on other grounds.
But Democrats have a much more serious concern.
Barry Berke, the Democratic counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, warned during Monday’s hearing that if Congress doesn’t check Trump now, things will only get worse.
“If, in fact, President Trump can get away with what he did again, our imagination is the only limit to what President Trump may do next,” he said.
Cover: President Donald Trump listens as Miriam Adelson, the wife of Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson, introduces him at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Fla., Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)