A Constitution in Peril

The release of a reconstructed transcript of a questionable phone conversation between President Donald Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has triggered a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had resisted such a monumental step, knowing that even if Trump was impeached by the House, he would probably be acquitted by the GOP-controlled Senate. Yet leaders of the Democratic-controlled House decided Trump’s behavior could no longer be ignored. 

The Trump-Zelensky conversation was the subject of a formal complaint by a still unnamed whistleblower. In the call, according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House, Trump, couching his request as a “favor,” seemed to pressure Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was taking a leading role in America’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine.

Biden, a leading candidate for next year’s Democratic nomination to oppose Trump, denies any wrongdoing, and neither Trump nor anyone else has come forward with convincing evidence to prove otherwise, although the optics give rise to the appearance of conflict of interest.

Last Thursday, rather than show any admission that such a request to a foreign power violates historic precedent, not to mention norms of domestic practices and most likely the Constitution, an increasingly enraged Trump repeated his request in public. He also called on China to investigate the Bidens.

In the wake of fears of foreign interference into domestic politics, such behavior should concern all Americans. Sacred Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, as well as historic events, repeatedly warn of the grave consequences of corruption.

• Noah was chosen by God to build his ark to assure there would be a fresh start after the Great Flood because he was “righteous in his time,” a time that was rife with corruption.

• Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because there were no righteous people living there.

• Moses appointed judges among tribal leaders who were warned against accepting bribes and practicing favoritism.

• The ancient Jewish kingdoms of Israel, Judah and Judea all suffered from corruption under idolatrous kings and priests.

The lessons of such ancient times, as well as the corruption in the present day, cannot be ignored. With each passing day, bitter acrimony grows between those who want Trump removed from office and those who defend his actions. Our Constitution spells out what practices are forbidden and what procedures should be followed when it is shown that long-accepted safeguards are being ignored.

As the Light goes to press, a second whistleblower reported to have firsthand knowledge of the Trump-Zelensky conversation has come forward. This latest report is an indication that the impeachment inquiry will be a long and divisive controversy and bolsters the importance of a thorough inquiry that is fair to all sides.

This is a time of grave peril for our democracy. Trump is entitled to be treated with fairness, no matter how outrageous his statements and actions may appear, and the impeachment proceedings should play out according to the law. 

An inflamed media atmosphere doesn’t help. People like Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, are not serving Trump well with out-of-control rants on talk shows or other displays that supply more heat than light. And calls by the likes of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., for Trump to be put in solitary confinement only make matters worse.

But neither is this a time for partisan politics to hold sway. Republicans who are disturbed by the president’s disdain for proper constitutional procedure need to speak out, as Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska did last Friday. Romney put the issue in stark perspective, saying:

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated.”

Credulity isn’t the only thing that has been strained. The limits of constitutionality are being severely tested. In this week of Yom Kippur, we pray that all of our elected leaders take a deep breath, step back from the precipice and treat the current constitutional crisis with the seriousness it demands.