Democrats maintain that the president is guilty of bribery, even though there was no bribe, because the federal bribery statute doesn’t require the bribe to be completed. A corrupt demand by a public official in exchange for the performance of an official act is enough.
For purposes of domestic law enforcement, it is perfectly appropriate for Congress to criminalize lesser offenses under the heading of “bribery.” In crafting the impeachment clause, however, the Framers weren’t relying on this federal statute, enacted about 175 years later. They had a very specific kind of bribery in mind. They were contemplating not only an actual bribe, but a bribe of the most egregious, traitorous kind.
Finally, the president didn’t have corrupt intent. Contrary to Rep. Adam Schiff’s “parody” version of the July Trump-Zelensky call, he wasn’t asking Ukraine to “make up dirt about my opponent.” There was significant reason to believe the Bidens were involved in self-dealing. There is abundant evidence that Ukrainian officials colluded with Democrats in the 2016 campaign. The president’s supporters say he was not so much seeking to help his 2020 campaign as to press for full accountability regarding Ukraine-Democrat collusion in the 2016 campaign and potential corruption in Obama administration dealings with Kiev.
Sondland’s testimony showed the president and Republicans need to rethink their defense. Fortunately for them, they not only have a case, it’s the case they should have been making all along.