Yesterday, Representative Mac Thornberry appeared on ABC’s This Week to elucidate the Republican case against impeaching President Trump. To say that his appearance did not go well would understate the case considerably.
“It is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” Thornberry conceded. Nonetheless, he argued for acquittal. Leaning hard into Republican objections to the impeachment process, Thornberry argued that the entire impeachment proceeding is null and void, however damning the evidence may be. Batting away a question about his focus on “process,” Thornberry replied: “And process — you know, you all always want to say substance, not process. There’s a reason we let murderers and robbers and rapists go free when their due process rights have been violated.”
Trump is not a murderer or a robber (the latter involves the use of force, whereas Trump traditionally steals money in non-forcible ways). He has been credibly accused as a rapist. Thornberry is invoking these other crimes as a metaphor Republicans have erroneously used to claim that the evidence against Trump was obtained improperly, and therefore he must be set free. In fact, all the evidence was obtained properly, and an impeachment proceeding is not a criminal trial anyway.
Other than that, sure, “We let murderers and robbers and rapists go free, why not Trump?” could be a fun slogan for Republicans to use.
Even more amazingly, Thornberry proceeded to argue that Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is not impeachable because there is also so much other public evidence:
There’s not anything that the president said in that phone call that’s different than he says in public all the time. So, is there some sort of abuse of power that rises to that threshold that is different than the American people have been hearing for three years? I don’t hear that.
Let’s back up. One of the key Republican messaging points throughout this scandal has been to pretend that Trump’s phone call with Zelensky is the only piece of evidence against him. In fact, as has been obvious from the outset, the call is merely one small element of a monthslong campaign to leverage Ukraine’s desire for a meeting and military aid to force it to investigate Trump’s domestic rivals. Numerous figures, both inside and outside the government, applied this pressure. The normal Republican game is first to ignore all the evidence except the phone call, and then to interpret the edited transcript of the call in a wildly obtuse fashion so as to pretend that it does not also incriminate Trump. (As long as he does not use the words quid pro quo over the phone, there’s no trade being implied.)
Thornberry tries to use this defense. He treats the phone call as if it’s the entirety of the case. But then, rather than insist the phone call was “perfect,” he concedes it was kinda bad. At that point, though, Thornberry pivots to pointing out that the call is no different than things Trump “says in public all the time.”
That’s true! Trump does solicit foreign countries to investigate his rivals in public all the time. He’s even declared that he has an “absolute right” to do the very thing he’s being accused of. Of course he pressured Ukraine to smear his opponents. The sane interpretation of this fact pattern is to wonder what we are even debating here.
Instead, Thornberry works from the premise that the phone call is the entirety of the evidence, then argues that since there’s also so much other evidence against Trump, we have to let him go.
Maybe if somebody was caught on tape ordering a murder, but also went around in public ordering his henchmen to commit murders, Thornberry believes they need to be set free. Or maybe he’s merely the latest Republican to prove Trump’s boast that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and wouldn’t lose any support.