By Jennifer Rubin / The Washington Post
Granted, I expected Republicans seeking to defend the indefensible president to keep “moving the goal posts.” The perfect call became not so perfect but not illegal, and then became the basis to argue “no quid quo pro” and then, well, here it gets weird.
I did not expect Republicans to bulldoze the goal posts, drive back and forth over them and pound them into the field. Now, maybe the latest suggested defense is a trial balloon launched by those trying to shoot down a really bad idea. The latest “strategy” amounts to: “So what if he extorted Ukraine?”
No, really. The Washington Post reports:
“A growing number of Senate Republicans are ready to acknowledge that President Trump used U.S. military aid as leverage to force Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family as the president repeatedly denies a quid pro quo.
“In this shift in strategy to defend Trump, these Republicans are insisting that the president’s action was not illegal and does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense as the Democratic-led House moves forward with the open phase of its probe.”
To put it mildly, this about-face could “complicate the message coming from Trump as he furiously fights the claim that he had withheld U.S. aid from Ukraine to pressure it to dig up dirt on a political rival.” Let’s count the ways in which this line of reasoning is nonsensical.
First, Trump himself says there is no quid pro quo. It’s hard to mount a defense from the jury (i.e., the Senate) that the defendant/president does not agree with. It makes one or both sides look dishonest and provokes the complaint: Can’t these guys get their stories straight?
Second, if extorting an ally fighting off the Russians to pressure a foreign leader to interfere in our election is not impeachable, I am not sure what the framers had in mind. Using state power for personal ends? Check! Taking power to elect our leaders away from voters and giving it to foreign powers? Check! Illegally withholding appropriated funds as part of an election scheme? Check! This is not a defense; it is a confession without any basis to plead for mercy.
Third, there is no limiting principle to contain what is obviously a perversion of our democracy. Ask Russia to Photoshop some pictures of a rival in exchange for lifting sanctions? (Yes, a little too on the nose, I know.) Ask a governor to endorse and raise money for the president; or risk losing highway funds? These abuses are really no different from what Trump tried.
Fourth, even the best articulation of the “Oh, what’s a little quid pro quo?” sounds daft. The Post reports, “Inside the lunch, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who ran against Trump in 2016, said a quid pro quo is not illegal unless there is ‘corrupt intent’ and echoed (Sen. John Neely) Kennedy’s argument that such conditions are a tool of foreign policy.” There is a little problem: This is the textbook definition of corrupt intent. Trump used military aid as a lever for his own political purposes, not the country’s national security, for re-election assistance. It is bad enough that Trump does not understand the difference between national interests and his own interests; watching the Republican Party obliterate that line essentially makes it the pro-corruption party.
Consider how unsustainable the “strategy” would be for many Republicans who are already wrestling with a defense for Trump that does not dash their re-election hopes. Imagine Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, already in a vulnerable spot thanks to her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, telling her New England independent voters: “I have no problem letting a foreign power control elections. Not mine, of course.” Even middle-of-the-road conservatives such as Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Thom Tillis, D-N.C., who’ve kept their mouths shut through the Mueller report, Trump’s self-dealing and Trump’s assault on Congress’s spending power (snatching funds for the wall), are going to worry about sounding like apologists for disloyalty and corruption, which basically, they would be.
I do not see how the latest non-defense defense is an improvement over “Let the voters decide!” or “He’s too impulsive to act like a president.” It surely is not better than the “Only joking (or blustering)!” defense, which “merely” makes lawmakers sound foolish. This newest tactic makes them sound un-American. That Republicans would seriously consider it raises doubts about their own fitness for office.
Senators scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses might want to consider why none of these sounds plausible. It might be because the facts and the Constitution demand impeachment and removal in this situation. If they acknowledge that, they might finally reach the only plausible conclusion: He must resign or be removed.
Follow Jennifer Rubin on Twitter @JRubinBlogger.