Some Thoughts on Describing the President’s Crimes

President Donald Trump attends UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
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Here are some basic thoughts about what happened in this story, what matters and how to describe it.

The President used extortion to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. He used military aid dollars meant to aid an ally against his Russian patrons in order to force Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 elections, in order to remain in office by corrupt means.

There are various crimes that get committed along the way. But that is the core of it. The President is delegated vast powers to act in the national interest and he has vast discretion to determine what he or she believes the national interest is. But when he uses those powers for his own personal or financial gain they are illegitimate on their face, abuses of power and merit impeachment. The fact that he was doing so to sabotage a national election makes it vastly worse. And the fact that he was getting a foreign power to sabotage a US election makes it worse still. Any talk of “quid pro quos” and this and that minutiae is a distortion of what happened. Quid pro quos are simply exchanges of one thing for another. Presidents will ask for help on one bill in exchange for another. They’ll condition one kind of aid to a country on assistance on another foreign policy goal. In itself it means nothing. The crimes are bribery and extortion, the abuses of power are using presidential power for personal gain and the central offense against the state is the attempt to sabotage a national election, the event on which the legitimacy of the entire system rests.

It’s pretty obvious on its face that the President did these things for his own personal interest rather than the national interest. But even this isn’t left to accusations or logic or surmise. His chief coconspirator has said repeatedly that all his actions were done exclusively in the interest of Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani reiterated the point as recently as last night.

We don’t even need to get into the other crimes involved, having a crooked lawyer taking over US foreign policy in a critical part of the world and sidelining professional diplomats. We just focus on the core thing. The President is given tremendous power to advance the national interest, see that the laws are enforced, preserve the national welfare. These aren’t powers that he owns personally. They are delegated for these ends. Your banker has great power to act on your behalf. They have no right to steal your money. A doctor has vast powers to cut your body, make decisions when you are unconscious. They no right to kill you or sell your organs or fondle you for their personal satisfaction. It’s all the same thing. Stop saying quid pro quo or getting lost in the details. The crimes are clear. Use language that accurately describes them.

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