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The impeachment inquiry's path is justified

President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room of

President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 18. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

The formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump  is democracy in action. 

 The American people need to hear what evidence would underlie any article of impeachment the House of Representatives would authorize. They need to know whether Trump risked America's national security  by demanding Ukraine publicly announce and then pursue an investigation that could have politically damaged a potential Democratic candidate in return for military aid Ukraine needed to stop Russian agression. 

Specifically, Trump wanted Ukraine to probe Hunter Biden's time on the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company, for which he was paid $50,000 a month, and whether former Vice President Joe Biden had a potential conflict of interest because he was the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine. Trump also believed unsubstantiated allegations that Ukraine tried to help Democrats in 2016.

This impeachment battle is bitterly partisan and, in all likelihood, whatever facts do emerge are unlikely to change many minds. Trump's fiercest Democratic opponents have wanted the president impeached since the day he was elected.  The most extreme pro-Trump forces believe every move against him is illegitimate and unjustified, and their views have taken hold in the Republican Party. GOP leaders have stonewalled and delegitimized every attempt to investigate the Ukraine situation, just as they did the Justice Department investigation that found pervasive Russian interference to support Trump in 2016.

The report by special counsel Robert Mueller outlined 10 instances in which Trump seemingly obstructed that investigation, but Mueller said he was unable to state a conclusion on whether Trump should be charged because Justice Department policy holds that a sitting president cannot be charged.

This is a critical time for the nation, and Americans should closely watch what unfolds over the next several months. Unless we agree on a set of facts, there can't even be a rational discussion about what action, if any, should be taken in response to the official findings. That is why it's necessary to debunk, at the start, some of the misinformation and spin that are confusing at best and, at worst, efforts to undermine a warranted inquiry into the president's conduct. 

Every House member across the Republican political spectrum, from moderates like Peter King to uber-conservative Trump loyalists like Lee Zeldin, voted against the impeachment inquiry.  And these Republicans are nearly unanimous in justifying their stands with misleading or downright dishonest talking points:

There was no basis for the investigation in the first place.

 A reconstructed summary of a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky links the investigations Trump wanted to the money and meeting Zelensky needed. House investigators have heard testimony from respected State Department and national security officials that they were alarmed by the call and felt that Trump was withholding foreign aid that Congress had authorized so he could advance his personal campaign needs. 

It is normal for presidents to bypass the State Department and use personal emissaries to negotiate with foreign governments.

King said that's what he did for Bill Clinton during the Irish peace process, and that's what Trump was trying to do with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in Ukraine. Presidents sometimes create alternate diplomatic channels, but that's supposed to be in pursuit of U.S. policy goals. It's not normal for a president to create such a channel to demand that a foreign government boost a president's electoral chances as a condition for receiving $391 million in aid that Congress  allocated to protect U.S. national interests.

The impeachment investigation thus far  has violated due process.

There has been a preliminary investigation, with witnesses testifying under oath and Republican committee members and their staffs fully involved. This information-gathering process must take place behind closed doors so witnesses do not coordinate their stories.

In this next step, GOP House members and Trump's attorneys will have ample opportunity to defend his actions, obtain documents and question witnesses.

This is the same process that has been used to investigate both a Republican and a Democratic president in the past, as well as federal judges. 

The process has predetermined the president's guilt.

The process has just begun. Most witnesses who testified privately will likely do so publicly. Are there Democrats and Republicans whose minds are made up? Absolutely. But Trump and Republicans protecting him are pursuing a cynical strategy. They've gone from saying nothing happened to saying the process for finding out what happened is flawed. They are increasingly arguing that even if Trump did exactly what he's accused of, he cannot be impeached for it because it's  not a crime, even though a crime is not necessary for impeachment.

Now,  Trump and House Republicans are moving toward the argument that the president has unlimited executive privilege and that no member of his administration can testify about what happened.

That's wrong. All witnesses and documents must be made available, except for those few instances when communications between the president and his staff must be privileged.

The nation must undergo this process because its questions must be answered. They must be answered regardless of whether they lead to articles of impeachment or Trump's expulsion from office. The nation has a right to know what its president does and how its government operates, if only to determine which laws and rules must be changed so a president can't manipulate foreign policy for his or her personal benefit. 

In the end, members of the House will gauge the sentiment of the American people to determine whether the case against Trump is strong enough to refer to the Senate for a trial. That sentiment, and the decisions of House members, should not be based on party or politics or personalities or petty grievances.

The facts must guide the process, and for that to happen, the facts must be revealed.