President Trump did not stand to receive any money or property from the Ukrainian president. (The House wisely chose not to charge Mr. Trump with bribery.) As a policy matter, I disagree with Mr. Trump’s decision to ask for an investigation of the Bidens. Even if warranted, it should have been avoided at all reasonable costs. The Republic would have been fine if we never learned more about Burisma. But receiving a “personal political benefit” does not transform an otherwise legal action — requesting an investigation — into impeachable conduct.
Mr. Trump is not the first president to consider his political future while executing the office. In 1864, during the height of the Civil War, President Lincoln encouraged Gen. William Sherman to allow soldiers in the field to return to Indiana to vote. What was Lincoln’s primary motivation? He wanted to make sure that the government of Indiana remained in the hands of Republican loyalists who would continue the war until victory. Lincoln’s request risked undercutting the military effort by depleting the ranks. Moreover, during this time, soldiers from the remaining states faced greater risks than did the returning Hoosiers.
Lincoln had dueling motives. Privately, he sought to secure a victory for his party. But the president, as a party leader and commander in chief, made a decision with life-or-death consequences. Lincoln’s personal interests should not impugn his public motive: win the war and secure the nation.