Trump: The Constitution made me do it

President Trump has defended his calls for Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens in constitutional terms. He said:

This is not about politics. This is about corruption. If you look and you read our Constitution and many other things, I have an obligation to look at corruption. I have an actual obligation and a duty.

As I read the Constitution, it does not obligate a president to investigate a given case of alleged corruption. Rather, it leaves the president with the discretion to investigate or not investigate.

There are two other problems with Trump’s statement. First, if this is not about politics, show me a case in which Trump has pushed a foreign government to investigate a specific individual, family, or entity for corruption where there were no political implications. Surely, the Bidens, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic committees/operatives aren’t the only Americans who have, or likely have, engaged in corrupt dealings abroad.

Second, the issue here isn’t Trump’s power or obligation to investigate corruption. The president is free, in good faith, to have the U.S. investigate any corrupt individual, including political figures who oppose him. (Thus, there is no point in announcing, as a commenter at Ann Althouse’s site facetiously did, one’s permanent candidacy for the presidency. Doing so will not insulate one from investigation).

The president is also free to ask foreign governments to cooperate with good faith U.S. investigations where such cooperation is needed. Again, this should be true whether or not the target of the investigation is a political opponent or rival of the president.

The issues here are different. One issue is whether it’s wrong for the president to alter, or threaten to alter, U.S. policy towards a foreign country if it refuses to investigate a political rival or opponent of the president. Another issue is whether, assuming this occurred and that it’s wrong, it provides proper grounds for impeaching the president.

I answer the first question in the affirmative. It is wrong, in my view, for the president to alter, or threaten to alter, U.S. policy towards a foreign country if it refuses to investigate a president’s opponent or rival..

I answer the second question in the negative, subject to a caveat. In my view, it is not an impeachable offense, in itself, for a president to alter, or threaten to alter, U.S. policy towards a foreign country if it refuses to investigate a president’s opponent or rival. However, if the policy alteration is major and the threat is carried out, then I think there’s a case for impeachment.

Here, the withholding of military aid authorized by Congress to an ally that is being attacked would be a major alteration. It’s not clear at this point whether Trump made or authorized such a threat. In any event, the military aid ultimately was not withheld.

The two issues I have just considered are core questions. One either sees wrongdoing or one doesn’t. One either sees an impeachable offense or one doesn’t.

There is plenty of room for disagreement, but not much to argue about.

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