The U.S. Constitution provides three grounds for the impeachment of a president: (1) Treason; (2) Bribery, and (3) other High Crimes and Misdemeanors. To date, potential articles of impeachment for “abuse of office” or “abuse of power” have been Congress’ primary focus during the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s July 25th phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky and the conditions he set for release of the desperately needed U.S. military aid to Ukraine. These likely “abuse” charges in the impeachment articles fall under the general category of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which does not require proof necessary for conviction of a crime.
However, what Congress may be missing is that, for the first time in our nation’s history, there is substantial evidence for impeachment of a sitting president for Treason. Article III, Section 3, Clause 1 defines Treason as the betrayal of one’s country by the giving of “aid and comfort” to the enemy. Russia is, without question, an enemy of the United States. It planned and executed a massive cyberattack and disinformation campaign against the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign. Since then, Trump has consistently engaged in a course of conduct that gives substantial “aid and comfort” to Russia, at the expense of fundamental U.S. interests.
Trump has repeatedly criticized our closest allies for petty and imagined slights, while uncritically praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and a long list of autocratic and brutal “strongmen” around the globe who are committed to perpetuating their own power at any cost. He has questioned America’s continued commitment to NATO, the strongest and most effective alliance in modern history. He sided with Putin and questioned the conclusion that Russia was behind foreign interference with the 2016 election. He has turned a blind eye to Russia’s continued annexation of Crimea and its attempted expansion into Ukraine. He withheld military hardware that Ukraine needed to stop Russia from further encroaching on Ukraine’s territory in its quest of either breaking up that country entirely or returning it to the Russian orbit.
Ukraine is now an independent European democracy fighting for its political and national survival. It cannot survive as a pro-Western democracy without massive U.S. support and assistance. To be sure, Ukraine has suffered from endemic corruption since it gained its independence in 1991. However, since the pro-Russian administration of President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in the “Maidan” uprisings in late 2013 and early 2014, Ukraine’s subsequent administrations have made efforts – with limited success – to root out the continued political and economic corruption that continues to threaten its fledgling democracy and economic development. The current administration under the leadership of Zelensky had redoubled its efforts to root out corruption, and his appointment of a professional and independent prosecutor general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, along with his strong backing of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, are extremely positive signs that Ukraine may finally be on the right track. Even with all its remaining flaws, Ukraine stands as a pro-Western bulwark against Russian expansionism, and there can be no question that a strong Ukraine is an important component of U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe and has been for almost two decades.
The U.S. State Department’s own website explicitly states: “U.S. policy is centered on supporting Ukraine in the face of continued Russian aggression as it advances reforms to strengthen democratic institutions, fight corruption, and promote conditions for economic growth and competition.”
Despite this, Trump has continually treated Ukraine with an outright hostility that is completely out of step with U.S. foreign policy and U.S. interests in the region.
Catherine Croft, a State Department expert on Ukraine matters, testified last Wednesday that it was widely known that Trump described Ukraine in a negative and pessimistic light, referring to it as “a corrupt country” and implying that it was perhaps beyond the point of saving. Trump’s continued belittlement of the country does not pay recognition to the thousands of brave Ukrainians who have fought and died to keep Russian forces from further advancing into their country. And despite the White House’s wavering support, the cries of “no capitulation” still echo throughout Ukraine. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly told Zelensky that he should “go meet with Putin” to work out a deal, as if the “dispute” did not start with Russia’s naked aggression and a redrawing of Europe’s map for the first time since World War II based on military force.
Croft also confirmed the prior testimony of other witnesses and public reporting that Rudy Giuliani and other people in the president’s circle engaged in a concerted campaign to fire Marie Yovanovich, the staunchly anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who stood in the way of Trump’s efforts to bend Ukraine to his political will. Christopher Anderson, another career Foreign Service officer, testified in Congress on Wednesday that he and other U.S. officials tried to carry out established U.S. policy strongly supporting Ukraine, only to have the White House undercut those efforts, including Trump’s disgraceful decision in 2018 not to support the Ukraine government in response to Russia’s unprovoked attack and seizure of Ukrainian military vessels in the Sea of Azov.
The House of Representatives has an obligation to include within the scope of its impeachment inquiry whether Trump has committed treason by providing aid and comfort to Russia, to the severe detriment to fundamental U.S. interests. The American people deserve no less.
Kenneth Foard McCallion is a former federal prosecutor, an adjunct professor at Fairfield University on the subject of “Impeachment and the 25th Amendment” and the author of “Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual 1.”
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