If I have this straight, House Republicans are united in the belief that public integrity is critically important for our nation. Accordingly, Joe Biden deserves to be impeached. During a meeting of the Rules Committee, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., referencing Biden’s supposed role in pressuring Ukraine to cease investigating his own son’s company, demanded, “If you’re running for president, does that mean you can do anything overseas?”
Republicans, even very sophisticated ones, have bought this line — that Joe Biden was engaged in unconscionable corruption while vice president. This is Donald Trump’s comfort zone. His jujitsu is to accuse any critic or opponent of corruption. The press is corrupt. The pollsters are corrupt. Adam Schiff is corrupt. The FBI is corrupt. The Mueller investigation was corrupt. “Corrupt” is his favorite epithet.
Trump’s relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton’s corruption were not without substance, God knows, but he would have leveled them with or without evidence. He must. He himself is deeply corrupt, and in a contest between a crooked pol and a straight one, the latter has the advantage. If both are corrupt, the choice comes down to this: “Whose crook do you want, theirs or ours?”
The evidence that Trump extorted Ukraine to announce (on CNN no less) an investigation into Burisma and the Bidens is overwhelming. If Trump could tout an official Ukrainian investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden would be well and truly tarred. Frankly, considering Trump’s relationship with the truth, it’s a little surprising that he went to the trouble to strongarm an ally. If he had simply lied about Ukraine investigating the Bidens, most of his fans would have believed it. Then again, to win in 2020, he needs his base plus some percentage of independents.
Desperate Republicans have offered strained arguments. They say, with straight faces, that this shakedown was part of Trump’s overall anti-corruption campaign. Really? Like his efforts with Turkey, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Russia? And if Trump were truly concerned about corruption in Ukraine, why did he show no interest in the matter before 2019? Why did his own ambassador to the European Union say: “Trump doesn’t give a s- — about Ukraine. He cares only about the big stuff like the Biden investigation.”
Republicans say that this is some sort of insult to Ukraine’s president, who, pressed at a U.N. grip-and-grin with Trump, said he hadn’t felt pressured. “They calling Zelenskiy a pathological liar,” fumed a Republican congressman. It’s as if an armed robber put a gun to your back and demanded money, but then insisted that you say you were not feeling pressured.
Democrats keep stressing that Trump was allowing a foreign government to intervene in a U.S. election, but that’s not the point. Let’s be realistic. We have nothing to fear from Ukraine. The corrupt part was using the leverage of American military assistance to create a false story about his domestic opponent. He was acting like a mob boss, and the Senate is about to ratify it.
What about the Biden corruption? Hunter Biden benefitted from his family name in landing a cushy board seat with a Ukrainian gas company. Further, Joe Biden apparently did not tell him not to take it. That’s not ideal, nor has candidate Biden handled it well, insisting that his son did nothing wrong and wouldn’t do it again. Weak and unsatisfying. But as far as we know, that’s the full extent of the Biden family “corruption.” Joe Biden did not pressure Ukraine to cease investigating Burisma, because there was no investigation. In fact, Biden pressured Ukraine in the other direction, to undertake more anti-corruption efforts and prosecutions. That, and not corruptly advancing his son’s interests, is what Biden “bragged” about.
There is much more evidence that it was the Trump administration whose approach to Ukraine was corrupt. It was Rudy Giuliani who spread misinformation about the corruption-fighting U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. It was Trump who fired her, because, as Giuliani acknowledged, he needed to “get her out of the way” the better to launch a Trumped-up smear of Trump’s political rival.
If, as seems all but certain, Trump is not removed by the Senate, the standard about what is impeachable conduct will have been ratcheted even higher. Trump will feel emboldened to further abuse his powers, and whistleblowers will think twice about risking disclosure. The message to future Vindmans, Yovanovitches, Taylors and Hills will be “Shut up. There is no appetite for the truth.”