President Trump has been impeached for conditioning his official acts of releasing Ukrainian military aid and hosting a White House meeting on the Ukrainian government announcing investigations for his personal political benefit. In response, the President has claimed that he “did nothing wrong” and that there was “[n]o crime!” During the House impeachment debate, Republican supporters echoed President Trump’s assertion that he committed no crime or wrongdoing.
The President’s conduct alleged in the Articles of Impeachment, however, is closely analogous to recent conduct of elected officials at the state and local levels who have been criminally prosecuted, convicted, and impeached for using or attempting to use their public office for personal gain while committing public corruption crimes. Unlike in President Trump’s case, lawmakers of both parties have widely condemned the actions of these public officials.
From 2009-11, former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached, removed from office, and convicted for among other corruption charges, a bribery scheme in which he corruptly sought to condition his official act of appointing a Senator on “Presidential appointment . . . to [a] high-ranking position in the federal government, including Secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassadorship.”
Blagojevich was described as saying in reference to the Senate seat that he had “got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”
Just as President Trump was impeached for attempting to condition his official acts of releasing aid and scheduling a meeting on the Ukranian government’s announcements of investigations into Burisma and the 2016 election, Governor Blagojevich was indicted for attempting to condition his official act of appointing a Senator on President Obama’s potential official act of appointing him to a high-level position.
Backlash to Blagojevich’s abuse of power was bipartisan. Blagojevich was impeached by a vote of 114 to 1 in the Democratic-led Illinois House of Representatives, with all 51 Republican votes. Further, all Republican U.S. Representatives from Illinois opposed clemency regarding Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence.
In May 2019, the Department of Justice indicted Michigan Representative Larry Inman on bribery charges. The indictment alleged that Inman solicited tens of thousands in campaign contributions from a labor union in exchange for his official act of voting to support a union-backed bill that would have mandated union wages on government construction projects.
Just as President Trump was impeached for attempting to condition his official acts of releasing aid and scheduling a meeting on the Ukranian government’s announcements, Rep. Inman was indicted for attempting to condition his official act of supporting a bill on receipt of campaign contributions.
Inman was alleged to have texted the union’s representative to solicit the money, stating: “We all need some more help! Carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks? . . . we never had this discussion.” Inman failed to receive the contributions and subsequently cast a vote against the union’s interests.
The Michigan House of Representatives, including all Republican members, voted 98 to 8 to call for Inman, a Republican, to resign, finding that his pattern of conduct “has drawn ridicule and disgrace to the state of Michigan and the Michigan House of Representatives, shaking the public trust and confidence in this legislative body.”
In 2005, New Mexico Treasurer Robert Vigil pressured a prospective state contractor to hire the wife of his predecessor, Michael Montoya. Montoya would tell the contractor that Vigil “owe[d]” Montoya for hiring Vigil as Montoya’s deputy.
Just as President Trump was impeached for attempting to condition his official acts of releasing aid and scheduling a meeting on the Ukranian government’s announcements, Vigil was convicted for conditioning his official act of hiring a contractor in exchange for that contractor making a politically-motivated hire of an unqualified individual.
Although Vigil, a Democrat, resigned before he could be impeached, Democratic governor Bill Richardson called for Vigil’s resignation. Republicans, including party Chairman Allan Weh, pushed for proceeding with Vigil’s impeachment.
In September 2019, Jasiel Correia, the Mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, was indicted on 24 counts, including 11 counts of public corruption.
Correia was charged with “[e]ntering into . . . agreement[s] to issue [four marijuana vendors] . . . non opposition-letter[s] in exchange for [hundreds of thousands in bribes] to be paid to Correia.” Such non-oppositions letter would “effectively allow [the marijuana vendors] to operate a marijuana business in Fall River.”
Just as President Trump was impeached for attempting to condition his official acts of releasing aid and scheduling a meeting on the Ukranian government’s announcements, Mayor Correia was indicted for conditioning his official acts of effectively granting marijuana licenses in exchange for large cash bribes.
Public corruption is not unique to the federal government, and local and state politicians who have attempted to use their public office for personal benefit have rightly faced prosecution and at times removal from office. Accountability for abuse of power is not a partisan matter. Rather, as recently stated eloquently by the Illinois Republican congressional delegation, “the integrity of our democracy and the core of American values depend on our elected officials being honest in upholding the trust given to them by the American people.” Five out of these seven members: Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost, still serve in Congress, yet voted against or opposed President Trump’s impeachment. In fact, Bost, while serving in the Illinois Legislature, voted to impeach Gov. Blagojevich.
The President of the United States is subject to this same standard. President Trump corruptly conditioned vital military aid and a White House meeting on the announcement of investigations that would provide him with the personal benefit of smearing his 2020 political rival. This is textbook abuse of power. Just like any officeholder who abuses his power, the President must be held to account.