Republican lawmakers and allies have dredged up some intriguing defenses for the president’s behavior in Ukraine. Trump is too dumb to commit an impeachable offense. Trump can’t be impeached for a crime he commits “all the time.” Trump was just an underling of his U.N. ambassador, Gordon Sondland — a former hotelier, a diplomatic rookie, and his own appointee. Adding to this library of astute analysis, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham went for a strict originalist defense for the president’s decision to withhold congressionally approved military aid in exchange for an investigation into his political rivals.
“The president may be impeached for bribery, treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors. But even assuming the Democrats strained and ridiculous interpretation of the facts … attempted bribery isn’t in the Constitution.”
Not long after the segment aired, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance noted that Ingraham’s defense doesn’t hold up: “Actually, it is. You see, the federal bribery statute, 18 USC 201, defines bribery to include attempted bribery. It’s enough to ‘seek’ a bribe — you don’t actually have to pull your illegal scheme off.”
Other unsubstantiated arguments on behalf of the president are folding under pressure as well, though perhaps not as quickly as Ingraham’s take. Republicans have claimed that witnesses called before the impeachment inquiry are relying on “hearsay” — because they were not on the July 25 call in which Trump pushed President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, they have no information to provide. But as New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote: “It is not ‘hearsay’ when officials are following expressly communicated orders through a chain of command.” Nor is it hearsay when State Department staffers are overhearing Trump phone calls through the receiver because the president is — perhaps in this one and only sense — a true New Yorker, in that he is deafeningly loud.