Listening to the impeachment hearings at the House Judiciary Committee, it really is extraordinary to recognize the extent of the hypocrisy of the Republican members. If you were coming to this debate for the first time, their arguments might sound reasonable on their face. But they are not. Let’s examine their arguments, and the responses to them.
That Trump said do “Us” a favor instead of do “Me” a favor
The Republicans want us to believe that it makes a difference that on the call Trump said do “us” a favor instead of do “me” a favor. They want us to believe that the “us” here refers to the United States and that Trump was genuinely concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
This argument would be completely laughable if it hadn’t been advanced as a serious argument.
The “us” here clearly refers to Trump’s administration (or the “royal we”). Trump isn’t concerned about corruption in Ukraine, he isn’t even concerned about corruption in the United States. Hell, he isn’t even concerned about corruption in the Trump organization, unless it’s the question of how to be better at being corrupt. Just the other day the Trump Foundation was required to pay $2 million in penalties for the misuse of funds just last month.
That Ukrainian President Zelenksy denies that he was pressured
The GOP argues that Zelensky really didn’t feel any pressure because he’s said so in interviews and in public. Unfortunately, this is like arguing that a battered wife is telling the truth when she says in court that her husband did not threaten to do her harm.
She has to go home again and deal with her husband after the court hearing is over.
Zelenksy still has to deal with Trump as long as he’s President. And he doesn’t want to get involved in US domestic policies.
Are we saying that Zelenksy is lying when he says that he felt no pressure. Yes, we’re saying it. Not because he’s a bad man, but because he’s the moral equivalent of an abused wife.
That President Trump is not being charged with a specific crime under Federal Law
The GOP seems to think that it matters that Trump is not being charged with bribery under the federal code. But there is no requirement that Trump be charged with a federal crime. Various constitutional scholars have made clear that the “high” in high crimes and misdemeanors refers to the high office of the President. The Congress are not federal prosecutors, and do not need to prove a federal crime.
Clinton was impeached for perjury, but the perjury he engaged in was clearly about a consensual affair that he had not wanted to admit to his wife. It did not involve an abuse of his office, and yet the Republicans were happy to impeach him.
Vandalizing a US postal mailbox is a federal crime, punishable by a fine of up to $250,000. But no one is suggesting — as one of the members pointed out — that Trump would be impeached if he were found to have vandalized a US postal mailbox. That is because it would not impact his duty as President.
But trying to rig an election by having a foreign country create a fake investigation is the essence of the abuse of power.
That the Mueller Report did not Recommend Charging Trump with a Crime
The GOP seems to think that it’s important that the Mueller report did not recommend that Trump be charged with a crime. But the Mueller report did not recommend that only because they bought into an Office of Legal Counsel opinion from the Department of Justice opining that a sitting President cannot be indicted.
On the other hand Mueller’s team provided evidence of ten different instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice, and practically begged the Congress to impeach Trump for these transgressions.
Personally, I wish that the Mueller instances of obstruction would have been included in the Articles of Impeachment.1 But the Democratic leadership, for better or worse, decided to focus the impeachment narrowly on narratives that they thought that the American people would understand.
I’m not about to second-guess Nancy Pelosi at this point, but I do wish that the Mueller information had been included. It would clearly make for much longer hearings, however.
That President Trump released the Military Aid to the Ukrainians
The GOP seems to think it’s significant that the President eventually released the hold on the military aid to the Ukrainians. But he did not do that until after the Whistleblower came forward and after it became obvious that his pressuring of the Ukrainians was going to become a major issue.
President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he wanted “No Quid Pro Quo”
Again, the GOP seems to think it’s significant that the President Trump, in a September 9, 2019 phone call, told the Ambassador that he wanted “no quid pro quo” from the Ukrainians. But again, this conversation did not take place until after the whistleblower came forward and after it became obvious that his pressuring of the Ukrainians was going to become a major issue.
That President Zelenksy did not announce the requested investigations
The GOP seems to think that it’s significant that President Zelensky never announced the requested investigations. The problem with this argument is that Zelensky’s administration was in active negotiations with Kurt Volker, Trump’s Special Envoy to Ukraine, about how to word the announcement of the investigations, and he had agreed to make the announcements on CNN when the agreement was derailed by the revelations from the whistleblower.
That the Minority was not granted a Day to Call in Witnesses
The GOP are angry that they were not granted an entire day to call witnesses so that they could distract from the Trump impeachment. Even though nothing in the rules requires the Majority to grant that.
Who are the witnesses they wanted to call?
Witnesses having to do with Hunter Biden and Burisma.
Of course, they could have investigated Hunter Biden and Burisma while they were in the majority, which was recently as October of 2018. Hunter Biden was appointed to the Burisma board in 2014. And while Hunter Biden’s sitting on the Board does not smell good, the issue has already been looked at by others, and there is no evidence of illegality or wrongdoing.
So, they’re mad that the Majority won’t allow them to begin an entirely separate and irrelevant investigation.
That Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption exculpates the President
The false allegation that Hunter Biden is corrupt would, in the GOP’s view, exculpate the President from wrongdoing. In other words, the President would have been correct in asking Ukraine to investigate him and therefore, it could not have been a pressure campaign. Well, there are two problems with this argument:
First, Hunter Biden is not under investigation, and there is no credible evidence to suggest that he should be under investigation. (At best, the GOP is alleging that Hunter Biden didn’t deserve the salary he received from Burisma, but if that were a crime, we’d have to indict half the CEO’s in the United States.)
Second, Trump wasn’t interested in an actual investigation of Hunter Biden, he was just interested in an announcement of an investigation so that he could insinuate wrongdoing and smear Joe Biden with it.
Congress should wait for cases to complete their circuits through the Courts
President Trump has famously refused to cooperate with the Congressional impeachment inquiry in any way. The House has filed multiple law suits relative to the President’s refusal to cooperate in the inquiry, an the GOP seems to think that these cases have to run through the entire appeals process, before Congress can act on it.
The problem with this argument is that — with a few exceptions related to Executive Privilege2 — all of the well-established case law is against the President, and all of the decisions that have come down so far, have come down against the President. Trump is clearly trying to run down the clock and simply keep the Congress from impeaching him before the 2020 election.3 In fact, United States v. Nixon establishes that the House has the sole power of impeachment and the Senate the sole power of trial. The Congress does not need the approval of any court to exercise it’s constitutional powers.
That the Evidence against Trump is “Wafer Thin”
The GOP has been arguing — quoting law professor Jonathan Turley — that the evidence against Trump is “wafer thin” and that there is not enough direct evidence of a quid pro quo to impeach him.
The problem with this argument is that Trump has refused to make available all the members of his administration who have the direct evidence that the GOP seeks. One cannot reasonably refuse to provide evidence and then argue that the President can’t be impeached because there is not enough evidence.
In addition to which, there is plenty of evidence already. Some 400 pages of it (and that’s not even including the Mueller report).
The GOP has some very clever members, and those clever members are making some very clever arguments. If you were first coming to this debate without any background, the arguments made by the GOP could sound quite reasonable.
But when you look between the surface, it becomes clear that the GOP arguments are specious at best.
– They want to have it both ways. They want to argue that Trump can refuse to cooperate and then argue that there isn’t enough evidence.
– They want to distract, by making this an investigation about Hunter Biden rather than Donald Trump.
– They want to claim that no crime was committed because Trump was caught in the middle of the act and did not have time to complete it.
One has to look underneath the surface to recognize how cynical these arguments are on the part of the GOP.
- As it is, the House Judiciary Committee only voted for two articles, one for abuse of power (based on his pressuring Zelenksy to announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden) and one for obstruction of Congress.
- While the President can make some particular claims of executive privilege, the propriety of which can be considered by the judicial branch, what is absolutely clear is that the President cannot refuse to provide all evidence without making specific arguments relative to executive privilege for each of those instances.
- That is why the Congress is in a rush, not because they are afraid they can’t beat him. Whether they impeach him or don’t impeach him is unlikely to have much impact on the upcoming elections.