Republicans Run Out of Excuses to Defend Trump

The best they can manage is that the president abused his power, but it is somehow not impeachable.

American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

There is no doubt American president Donald Trump tried to bribe Ukraine into launching an investigation of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, did work for an Ukrainian company. The impeachment inquiry conducted by the House Intelligence Committee has established the facts in under two months.

Trump held up congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine (which is fighting a Russian-backed insurgency in its east), asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him a “favor” by investigating the Bidens, and aid was restored after news of the attempted blackmail leaked.

It’s a straightforward abuse of power.

So Trump’s Republican allies have been doing all they can to complicate the story.

Excuses

They claimed there was no quid pro quo, except now we know, from Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland — who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee to get the job — that there was.

Sondland confirmed what we had already learned from the non-verbatim transcript of a call between Trump and Zelensky, which the White House — incredibly — released.

So maybe there was a quid pro quo, Trump’s defenders admit, but at least he wasn’t motivated by self-interest. Trump was trying to stamp out corruption in Ukraine. Except now we know, from State Department official David Holmes, that Trump didn’t “give a shit” about Ukraine.

Which should have been obvious from the involvement of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in the whole saga. If the president genuinely cared about corruption in Ukraine, why bypass official channels?

OK, so there was a quid pro quo, and Trump did act out of self-interest, but he resumed the aid to Ukraine, didn’t he? And Ukraine didn’t investigate the Bidens. So what’s the harm?

This is a pathetic defense. The crime failed, so the criminal shouldn’t be punished.

It’s not that Trump’s threat had no effect. Zelensky has taken a softer line on Russia than his predecessor, aware that America no longer has Ukraine’s back.

The latest line is that Trump did wrong, but that it’s not impeachable.

If abusing the power of the presidency, defying Congress and letting down an American ally to promote one’s personal political interests isn’t impeachable, nothing is.

From there, the Republican “defense” of Trump, such as it is, tends to descend into conspiracy theory.

It was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election! Except America’s intelligence community and an exhaustive investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller say otherwise. Even if they’re wrong, what does it matter? If Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election (it didn’t), how would that justify Trump’s blackmail?

The “deep state” is out to get Trump! Except he appointed all the people who have testified against him. Again, though, what difference does it make? Their motivation doesn’t change the truth.

Truth

The truth is that Republicans don’t want to impeach Trump. Because they fear the wrath of his base. Because they believe he is their last best hope of preventing America from becoming a majority liberal, secular and nonwhite nation. Because they prefer a crooked Republican over an honest Democrat.

Whatever the reason, they’re putting party before country and dragging down trust in American institutions — already at an alarming low — down with them.