|ERIN SCHAFF / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
Not that he needed any prompting because of a lifetime of sleazy and corrupt behavior, but Donald Trump still learned well from the Russia scandal, and elements of that attack on the bedrock of American democracy are all over his brazen efforts to pressure and possibly bribe or extort the president of Ukraine into conducting a witch hunt (there's that word!) against his leading Democratic challenger for the presidency. If anything is an impeachable offense and demands his immediate removal from office, this certainly is it.
In a replay of 2016, Trump repeatedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen, but instead of powerful Russia President Vladimir Putin with Hillary Clinton as their target, it is weak Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as the targets.
It is an extraordinary mix of ethical, legal and national security issues.
And in an especially perverse twist, although the crime was far worse than the coverup in 2016, this time the crime is hiding in plain view -- it just look the news media a while to connect the dots -- and not only is there no coverup, but Trump fixer Rudy Giuliani is boasting about the crime and Trump, as is often the case, repeatedly denied discussing Biden with Zelensky until he acknowledged the bleeding obvious on Sunday while continuing to refuse to release a transcript of his July 25 call to Zelensky during which he pressed him no fewer than eight times to work with Giuliani to investigate the Bidens.
Trump would instinctively try to get dirt on his opponents, let alone Biden, who has not hesitated to call out the president.
"This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” Biden told reporters while on the stump in Iowa. "Trump's doing this because he knows I'll beat him like a drum and is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me."
The president and his minions claim that as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden tried to sack a Ukrainian prosecutor who was probing his son's energy company, an allegation that is totally baseless. Hunter Biden's hands are soiled, at best, and certainly not dirty, but that's beside the point. Biden already has become the Lock Her Up Hillary of the 2020 campaign, the media will fecklessly repeat the Big Lie as they did with Clinton's emails, and every time they do it will stick a little more.
What is different this time is that Trump has now been in charge for nearly three years, is unrestrained and more convinced of his invincibility than ever although outside of his ever reliable base, he is deeply unpopular, under investigation for a staggering array of crimes and unpresidential behavior, and House Democrats have nominally begun impeachment proceedings.
Additionally, the July 25 call is part of a whistleblower complaint submitted by Trump appointee Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. But Joseph McGuire, acting director of national intelligence, is refusing to turn over the complaint to Congress, as is required by law. The identity of the whistleblower remains unknown.
And it should not be forgotten that Trump withheld a bipartisan $250 million appropriation for military assistance for Ukraine urgently needed by the former Soviet republic to fend off Russian aggression, which at first seemed like yet another way to curry favor with Putin until the whistleblower complaint became known and members of Congress, some Republicans included, began breathing down his ugly neck to release the funds. Then Trump .
To return to where we began, if anything is an impeachable offense and demands Trump's immediate removal from office, this certainly is it. This is, in fact, a make or break moment. But that's not how things work in Trump's America nor on Capitol Hill, where Trump is holding Republicans hostage, Republicans still have a stranglehold on the Senate and would never vote to convict him should the Democratic majority in the House approve articles of impeachment.
So while calls for impeachment are growing, the House Intelligence Committee has yet more combustibles to investigate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of her caucus in a letter on Sunday that if the administration's resistance continues, it "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation," a formal impeachment vote remains an abstraction.
More likely is that the whole mess will end up in voters' laps in November 2020.