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Analysis

With Ukraine under attack, Trump’s first impeachment is suddenly much more relevant

New clarity over Trump’s first impeachment raises questions about his political future.

Former president Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met in 2019.AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump is the only American president to be impeached twice. His second impeachment, over his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, was easy for Americans to understand. The events, after all, were documented on live television, surveillance cameras, and social media.

The issue at hand, the validity of the 2020 American presidential election, was also easy to understand and a record number of Americans participated in it. The Capitol building is something that any American who watches the news sees regularly. The facts, in most mainstream corners, were widely accepted. The arguments against impeachment were around whether an outgoing president should be impeached and whether the attack was that big of a deal.

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Trump’s first impeachment, however, went over the heads of a lot of Americans. The months-long investigation into whether Trump tried to improperly pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son were largely seen through a partisan lens. Those who followed the impeachment trial mainly jumped into their respective camps. Democrats, who had talked about impeachment since Trump took office, appeared happy that they found charges that were so clean. Republicans, ignoring the broader implications for Ukraine, largely viewed the impeachment as just politics from Democrats who were especially hung up on their hatred of Trump.

But in the last week as Ukraine came under total bombardment from Russia, the issue underlying the first impeachment has become searingly clear. At the heart of the allegations is that Trump withheld $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to help the nation deter a Russian invasion until Ukraine announced publicly there would be an investigation into the Biden family for unfounded reasons.

Trump also was found to have prevented a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelensky — a sign of American support for a sovereign Ukraine.

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Today it’s obvious that not only could Ukraine use all the military aid it could get, but also that everyone in American politics is standing with the embattled country. In fact, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Steve Daines came under fire for being too excited to share pictures of a Zoom meeting with Zelensky over the weekend. (Senators were told to wait to show images of the call until later, to protect Zelensky’s whereabouts.)

What Trump did is no longer some esoteric foreign policy mumbo-jumbo. It involves the very issue dominating the news and uniting the Western world.

This raises the question as to how damaging the situation in Ukraine will be to Trump’s own political future, should he seek one. Already it’s easy to see the candidates whom Trump has endorsed in the 2022 elections being asked if they agree with Trump’s initial assessment that invading Ukraine was “savvy.”

It’s already notable that no major Republican member of Congress has defended Trump’s comments or tried to even spin them. Should Trump run in 2024, it will be interesting to see how he tries to explain both his actions that led to his first impeachment and his statements, even as Ukraine was being invaded.

In other words, instead of Trump complaining about allegations of “Russia, Russia, Russia,” we might be hearing a lot about his “perfect phone call” with Ukraine.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.