Edward B. Foley directs the Election Law program at the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, where he also holds the Ebersold Chair in constitutional law.
Is It Ever OK for a President to Ask a Foreign Country to Investigate a Political Rival?
Sometimes, yes—which is why Donald Trump’s potential impeachment hinges on his motive in doing so. ...
Democrats seem to assume the answer is no, that this kind of request could never be proper, given the implications for our electoral system. “Smoking gun” is what they say about Trump’s urging Ukraine—and now also China—to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. Republicans, meanwhile, contend that it is perfectly normal, and justified, for Trump as president to ask the Ukrainians to look into potential corruption that involves Americans and could, in theory, affect U.S. relations with that country.
“This is not about politics. This is about corruption,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Friday.
But the real answer to this question is more complicated. History shows that a president sometimes might be justified in asking a foreign country to investigate a political rival, including a former vice president. So, the mere fact of Trump’s request for an investigation into the Bidens, without considering the circumstances of the request, is not enough to impeach him.
In order prove that Trump abused his presidential powers to the point that he no longer can be trusted in exercising them—the constitutional standard for impeachment—Congress must establish Trump’s intent in making the request. Was it done in good faith, with U.S. foreign or domestic interests in mind, or in bad faith, merely for Trump’s personal and political benefit? To prove the latter, Congress can’t rely on Trump’s words alone; it must show that the charges of corruption against the Bidens are baseless and that Trump’s request to Ukraine is part of a pattern of bad faith demonstrating that the nation no longer can tolerate his incumbency.