Removing a president from office is admittedly a serious and consequential undertaking. In the history of our great nation, we have traveled down the impeachment path only three times: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and now Donald Trump. In the present case, it is not hard to figure out the right result.
The United States is a nation that is governed by the rule of law. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Section 2) says it best when it provides that the Constitution and the laws and treaties enacted in accordance therewith are the “Supreme Law of the Land.”
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the president “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” The obligation imposed on the president by the Constitution is clear and simple. Once a law is passed in accordance with the process set out in the Constitution, it is the president’s legal obligation to make sure that the law is carried out.
In the current case, a law was passed for the purpose of providing aid to Ukraine to support that country in its military conflict with Russia. Regardless of whether President Trump agreed or disagreed with that law, his constitutional responsibility was to distribute the aid to Ukraine. He purposefully and intentionally failed to do so thereby unequivocally breached his constitutional duty.
The logic of the analysis is simple and obvious as evidenced by the actions of everyone involved in this matter:
(1) After hearing the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council — immediately determined that the requests made by Trump were inappropriate and should be brought to the attention of the inspector general of the intelligence community.
(2) The inspector general quickly found the information in the complaint to be credible and attempted to forward it to the appropriate congressional subcommittees as required by law.
(3) The White House attempted to block transmission of the complaint to the subcommittees (which, in addition to being an implicit admission of wrongdoing, is another blatant failure by the Trump White House to faithfully execute the laws as required by the Constitution).
(4) It appears from facts learned through the congressional investigation that the Pentagon repeatedly told the White House that Trump’s desire to withhold the aid was not authorized by law.
When deciding whether to remove Trump from office, it is important to keep in mind the concept of “precedent.” That concept provides that a legal decision in one case can be considered a guide to future decisions. Thus, the question before the Senate at this time is not whether President Trump has the authority to ignore or manipulate one single federal statute providing aid to Ukraine. The question before the Senate is whether every president has the right to ignore and manipulate every law. Hopefully, the Senate will say no, because a chief executive officer, be they Democrat or Republican, who is not bound by the law is nothing more than a dictator.
Steve Mackey writes from Shoreview.