ukraine scandal

GOP Divided Over How Enthusiastically to Cover for Trump on Ukraine

Devin Nunes came here to chew bubblegum and abet corruption. And he’s all out of bubblegum. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation into one of his own political rivals, despite the fact that there was no evidentiary basis for such a probe. This fact is established in both the recently released phone records of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and a U.S. government whistle-blower’s complaint. But you don’t need to consult such documents to know that this happened ⁠— you can actually take our president’s word for it: Trump has repeatedly admitted that he used the power of his office to pressure a foreign government into launching a baseless probe into one of his adversaries. Faced with the opportunity to use America’s limited diplomatic leverage to advance our nation’s interests, Trump opted to advance his own ⁠— in a manner that is actively harmful to American democracy. (Incumbent officials using the power of their offices to orchestrate legal troubles for their political opponents is not healthy for a republic.)

In a country where acknowledging objective reality and protecting one’s political interests were compatible activities for members of Congress, Trump’s own account of his actions would be sufficient to establish his unfitness for high office.

But since we do not live in such a country, Washington must pretend that there is some ambiguity about the propriety of Trump’s actions. Specifically, congressional Democrats are currently focused on the question of whether Trump withheld duly appropriated aid to Ukraine so as to coerce its government to target Joe and Hunter Biden. Trump officially denies this particular act of heinous corruption. But that pro forma denial notwithstanding, there isn’t much ambiguity about whether the president is guilty of the charge. In his phone calls with Zelensky, Trump heavily implies that the release of the aid is contingent on Ukrainian cooperation on corruption. And we know that Trump ordered military aid to Ukraine to be frozen earlier this year, then had his White House supply Congress with ever-changing rationalizations for why that aid had not yet gone through. Finally, this week, Trump implicitly admitted that there had been a quid pro quo, saying of his conversations with the Ukrainian president “It’s very important to talk about corruption. Why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”

These are not the makings of a satisfying “whodunit?” Some of the precise details of what transpired are unknown and should be uncovered. But there is no question that Trump abused the powers of his office in this instance — as he has manifestly done in many, many other instances.

House Democrats’ decision to formally begin actively considering whether they might be willing to acknowledge this reality (a.k.a. “launch an impeachment inquiry”), combined with Thursday’s release of the whistle-blower report, has rendered Trump’s corruption more conspicuous than usual. And Republicans are divided about how to respond.

Here’s a quick rundown of their positions, from left to right.

The president’s actions warrant an impeachment inquiry, but it’s still anybody’s guess whether Donald Trump has ever committed a high crime or misdemeanor.

The RINO governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, has endorsed the official Democratic position.

Trump’s actions warrant an investigation, but not an impeachment investigation.

Retiring moderate Republican representative Will Hurd implicitly took this position Thursday.

Mitt Romney also appears to be in this camp, telling reporters Wednesday that Trump’s diplomacy with Ukraine is “troubling in the extreme … Everybody has their own perspective. I indicated … over the weekend what I thought troubling behavior would be. And asking a leader of a foreign government to investigate a political opponent is, in my opinion, a troubling matter.”

Trump’s actions warrant an investigation, but not an impeachment investigation — and shame on Democrats for saying otherwise.

Nebraska senator Ben Sasse laid claim to this subtly distinctive pseudo-high-minded territory. “Republicans ought not to be rushing to circle the wagons to say there’s no there there when there’s obviously lots that’s very troubling there,” Sasse told NBC News after reviewing the complaint. “But there are also Democrats who had already decided they were going to impeach the president yesterday before they had any actual facts in front of them, and I think that’s disastrous for the public health.”

The possibility that the actual facts of the Trump presidency established a persuasive case for impeachment shortly after he took office — and that this is why some Democrats favored removing Trump from office, even before seeing these new documents — apparently did not occur to the Senate’s “vanishing American adult.”

I am not going to say anything that could be misinterpreted as a position.

Maine’s increasingly vulnerable Republican senator Susan Collins said that the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukranian president “raises a number of important questions” but “I’m not going to be prejudging the evidence and I’m not going to be commenting on the House’s proceedings.”

Look, if Trump didn’t say, verbatim, “If you don’t launch a sham investigation into my potential 2020 opponent, I will withhold the aid that Congress appropriated for your country because I am a lawless baddie,” then he did nothing wrong.

“I didn’t find it concerning,” Iowa senator Chuck Grassley said of the transcript Wednesday. “There was no quid pro quo, you’d have to have that if there was going to be anything wrong.”

We’re not mad at the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — we actually think it’s funny.

This mode of response substitutes self-confident horserace nihilism for any engagement with the substance of the scandal:

“I don’t want to go and say there’s almost, since yesterday, a kind of giddy atmosphere, because you always have to be careful what you wish for,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), vice chairman of the GOP conference. “But at the same point, if Democrats continue to play the same card, ‘attack attack attack’, the Republican base isn’t going to bite anymore.”

“We think it’s hilarious,” added Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). “This is a sham process.”

Trump never corruptly intervened in Ukrainian politics. You are thinking of Joe Biden.

“Biden is the one who threatened Ukraine’s aid, not Trump, and that has to be investigated,” Kentucky senator Rand Paul told the Washington Post.

The whistle-blower is a key figure in the “Clintons-Obama-Biden collusion debacle” and his report is just a craven attempt to deflect from the real scandal.

Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt floated this theory Thursday.

Won’t somebody please think of Hunter Biden’s illegitimate children?

Democrats just want those sweet, sweet Trump nudies.

GOP Divided Over How Gleefully to Cover for Trump on Ukraine