Trump's Alleged Ukraine 'Shakedown' Meets Framers' Justifications for Impeachment: Harvard Constitution Scholar

A Harvard law scholar laid out in an op-ed the constitutional case for impeaching President Donald Trump over his alleged misconduct towards Ukraine, accusing him of corruptly encouraging foreign interference in an American election for personal gain.

"Trump's Ukraine shakedown hits the trifecta of the Framers' impeachability concerns," wrote Michael J. Klarman, a professor of constitutional law and history at Harvard Law School, in The Boston Globe.

That trifecta, Klarman said, was corruption, foreign interference in American governance, and both of those done together in the context of elections.

Klarman said Trump has acted from "corrupt motives" to abuse the power of his office in seeking to pressure Ukraine into opening spurious corruption investigations into his domestic political rivals to advantage his own 2020 election campaign.

Specifically, Trump allegedly conditioned a White House visit for Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and withheld nearly $400 million of military aid to secure the opening of the corruption investigations.

"Abuse of office for personal gain was at the core of the Framers' conception of 'corruption.' The president encouraged foreign interference in American affairs, and Trump solicited that foreign intervention specifically with regard to an American election," Klarman wrote.

"If Trump's Ukrainian shakedown does not qualify as a 'high crime and misdemeanor,' it is not clear what would."

Trump denies any wrongdoing and claims he was legitimately pursuing allegations of corruption with Zelenskiy. A partial transcript of a July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy shows the U.S. leader asking his counterpart for "a favor" and to "find out what happened."

One of the investigations Trump wanted was into former vice president Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate for the Democratic Party whose son Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukranian gas company called Burisma. Allegations of Biden's corruption are dubious.

The other would have been into the Democratic Party and a widely-debunked conspiracy theory promoted by Trump supporters that it worked with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, despite the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia is to blame for meddling.

The House is moving to impeach Trump over his alleged misconduct. The intelligence committee is due imminently to send its report on the case for impeachment, following witness testimony from a series of administration officials, to the judiciary committee.

The judiciary committee will hold its own hearings with expert witnesses on the impeachment process and eventually consider which, if any, articles of impeachment to adopt against Trump before there is a vote with the full House.

Should the House vote to impeach Trump, the process moves to the Senate, which will hold a trial of the president overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate then votes on each article of impeachment. In order to convict a president of an article, the Senate must vote by a two-thirds majority.

House Republicans have already released their own report rebutting the case for impeachment.

The Democrats are "alleging guilt on the basis of hearsay, presumptions, and speculation—all of which are reflected in the anonymous whistleblower complaint that sparked this inquiry," the report stated.

"The Democrats' narrative is so dependent on speculation that one Democrat publicly justified hearsay as 'better' than direct evidence."

The GOP document also asserts that Trump "has a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption." Because of this, Trump's hesitation to meet Zelenskiy at the White House or provide financial assistance to Ukraine is "entirely prudent," the Republicans claimed.

Donald Trump impeachment Ukraine corruption
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at Winfield House, London on December 3, 2019. Trump is facing impeachment over his alleged misconduct towards Ukraine. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images