Bribery and the president's intent
Karlan testified that Trump’s Ukraine actions rise to the level of “bribery” — not just high crimes and misdemeanors — under the Constitution.
"Yes, they do,” she said under questioning from Democratic staff lawyer Norm Eisen.
Bribery is only one of a larger set of potentially impeachable offenses the House is considering, but her exchange with Eisen points to a key battle between House Democrats and the White House.
Karlan added later that the president met the threshold for bribery if his intention in withholding aid from Ukraine was to benefit himself politically through the investigations he wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce into former Vice President Joe Biden as well as a conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Then, yes, you have bribery there,” she said.
Establishing the intent of the president has been trickier for Democrats than other elements of the case because, while they have plenty of evidence that he and his lieutenants connected the aid to the investigations and have produced witnesses who concluded that his motivation was political, they have not demonstrated that Trump ever said he was going after Biden to help his own re-election.
Indeed, after it was clear to the White House that an intelligence community whistleblower was going to allege the president engaged in a bribery scheme, the president publicly declared there was “no quid pro quo” and senior political officials in the administration began explaining the aid freeze as a matter of national security.
And, as Karlan noted, there is little to suggest that anyone in the president’s orbit who dealt with Ukraine pushed back on the idea that his motivation in freezing aid was for anything other than benefiting himself politically. It’s a fight in which Republicans will insist there’s no smoking gun and Democrats will point to all of the evidence that suggests personal political benefit is exactly what the president sought.