There has long been two systems of justice in the United States. One for the wealthy white male privileged patriarchy of country club chamber of commerce Republicans, and one for everyone else.
For example, when a rich white kid steals a car, it is argued that “He just took the car for a joy ride, he apologized for it, where’s the harm? He’s a good boy from a good family.” But for anyone else, it is grand theft auto, and your ass is going to jail.
In the world of politics, this dual system of justice has long been known as “It’s OK if you are Republican” (IOKIYAR), for anyone else it would be a crime, and your ass is going to jail.
Just take everything you have heard and read about the Ukraine scandal and substitute the name “President Hillary Clinton” for President Donald Trump. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Hillary Clinton would have already been impeached and criminal charges filed by the Justice Department? The fact that you instinctively know the answer to this question should inform your judgment as to what should occur here if justice were truly blind.
The New York Times today breaks down all the lame-ass excuses Republicans have made for why Donald Trump should not be impeached. But the only intellectually honest answer is for Republicans to simply admit what we all know to be true, their only answer is IOKIYAR. The Disorienting Defenses of Donald Trump (excerpt):
Lawmakers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, which obliges them to act as a check on the executive branch and any abuses of its power. Yet instead of considering the testimony, many Republicans have chosen reflexively to defend Mr. Trump — not an easy task in the face of such strong evidence of inexcusable behavior.
Here’s a field guide to some of the lines of attack that Republicans have used so far. See if you can recognize them if they appear during the public hearings scheduled to begin this week.
There was no quid pro quo.
This was the first and cleanest defense of Mr. Trump’s July phone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. Trump and his allies offered it up after the White House released a partial summary of the call.
Yet no matter how many times Mr. Trump exhorts Americans to “read the transcript,” the call summary itself establishes that immediately after Mr. Zelensky brought up the military aid, Mr. Trump said he wanted him to “do us a favor though,” and then mentioned investigating the Bidens and a conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee server in 2016.
Don’t believe the president’s own words? Multiple government officials have attested that there was indeed a quid pro quo, and it involved the withholding of nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until Mr. Zelensky agreed to go on TV and announce the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.
William Taylor Jr., the top envoy to Ukraine, testified to the House Intelligence Committee that it was his understanding that “security assistance would not come until [Zelensky] committed to pursue the investigation.” Representative Adam Schiff, the committee chairman, asked Mr. Taylor, “So if they don’t do this, they are not going to get that, was your understanding?” Mr. Taylor replied, “Yes, sir.” Mr. Schiff then asked him whether he was aware that a quid pro quo literally means “this for that,” and Mr. Taylor replied, “I am.”
How could it have been a quid pro quo if the Ukrainians didn’t know about it?
John Ratcliffe, a congressman from Texas, tried this line on Fox News last month, which the president tweeted. No witness, Mr. Ratcliffe said, “has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld. You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.’”
Except the Ukrainiansdid know. The Times reported that “the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations.”
The Associated Press reported it was earlier, Ukrainian leader felt Trump pressure before taking office:
Volodymyr Zelenskiy gathered a small group of advisers on May 7 in Kyiv for a meeting that was supposed to be about his nation’s energy needs. Instead, the group spent most of the three-hour discussion talking about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for a probe and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the meeting.
Catherine Croft, the special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department, testified that she fielded inquiries from the Ukrainians. “As the aid was being blocked this summer, Ukraine officials began quietly asking the State Department about the holdup.” Impeachment witness: Ukrainians asked about holdup of aid.
This week, Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union, testified that he explicitly told a top Ukrainian official that release of the aid was contingent on a public announcement of an investigation.
It’s all just hearsay. And the whistle-blower is a partisan Democrat.
Not just hearsay, but “triple hearsay.” This argument first appeared in October, as the outlines of the whistle-blower’s complaint came into focus. “Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed-door, secretive hearings,” said the White House Press secretary, Stephanie Grisham.
What about the anonymous whistle-blower? The president’s allies and conservative media outlets have been speculating about the person’s identity and motivations. But the truth is that the whistle-blower could have been Joe Biden himself at this point. What matters isn’t the motivation but the substance of the complaint. Virtually every element has been corroborated by multiple people.
Think of the whistleblower as a citizen who called 9-1-1 to report what they think may be a crime in progress. The police, i.e., the Inspector General (IG) of the intelligence community, investigates and determines that there is a crime in progress, and that it is an “urgent concern”. The 9-1-1 caller is irrelevant. The only evidence that matters is the police (IG) investigation of the crime.
It was a quid pro quo. But so what? This happens all the time.
“Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the D.N.C. server?” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, offered this during an October news conference. “Absolutely. No question about that,” he said. “That’s why we held up the money.”
For good measure, he added, “Get over it.”
This is known as an admission against interest in evidence. Mick Mulvaney effectively confessed to the crime. This will be used to impeach his later attempts to walk back his confession.
To their credit, not even Mr. Trump’s most steadfast allies have signed on to this particular defense, at least not yet. Mr. Mulvaney, realizing the depth of the hole he had dug, later claimed he had not said what he said. Still, his claim did serve one important function, which was to pivot the administration’s basic case away from “no quid pro quo” to “yes, quid pro quo, but so what?”
It was a quid pro quo, but President Trump was only interested in rooting out corruption in Ukraine.
It’s difficult to imagine Mr. Trump — who just agreed to a $2 million settlement for using his own charity as the family A.T.M. — as an anti-corruption crusader. It’s that much harder to buy given that he has not expressed a similar concern with corruption in any other country, including the United States. Also, Mr. Trump appears to have cared less about an actual investigation than a televised announcement of one.
The Trump administration is the most lawless and corrupt administration in American history. And they were encouraging Ukraine to be corrupt, i.e., to manufacture “dirt” on Trump’s political opponent in exchange for a bribe. This is the exact opposite of concern for corruption.
No one outside the president’s party appears to believe that anti-corruption was the objective. In closed-door testimony before Congress on Thursday, George Kent, the State Department’s top Ukraine official, said there was no doubt what was going on: Mr. Trump “wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton.” This was wrong, Mr. Kent said. “As a general principle, I do not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in politically associated investigations and prosecutions.”
It was a quid pro quo, but Mr. Trump had nothing to do with it.
“When I get to ask questions, and when you see all of the transcripts, you will understand that there is no direct linkage to the president of the United States,” said Mark Meadows, a Republican congressman from North Carolina.
Mr. Meadows was quick to point the finger at Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. “There are a whole lot of things that he does that he doesn’t apprise anybody of.”
This is the typical defense raised by a mafia boss: “You got nothing on me!” But this defense typically fails under the crime of conspiracy — a co-conspirator will admit, as Michel Cohen did, that “with respect to both [hush money] payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the president of the United States.
It’s true that Mr. Giuliani has been openly talking about efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens since earlier this year. But Mr. Taylor also testified that Mr. Giuliani, who is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors, was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump.
The same day Mr. Taylor’s testimony was released, Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter that he was acting “solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges.” In September, he told The Washington Post, “I don’t do anything that involves my client without speaking with my client” [“he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1“]. Of course, Mr. Giuliani can’t withhold military aid to a foreign power. As Mr. Taylor testified, “The directive had to come from the president.”
Fine. It was a quid pro quo. Trump ordered it. He did so for his own political benefit. The Ukrainians knew about it. That’s bad, but it’s not an impeachable offense.
Seriously? As described so far by several witnesses, President Trump’s behavior, consorting with a foreign government for his own personal benefit, is literally what the framers had in mind when they established the power to impeach a president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Whether that warrants removal from office is another matter.
The Constitution sets forth specific grounds for impeachment. They are “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” What Trump did is one of the few crimes actually specified in the Constitution, bribery, 18 U.S.C. §201. Impeachable abuses of power have never required proof of a crime, however. Trump’s conduct is a classic example of abuse of presidential power for personal or political gain, and is therefore properly impeachable. Trump’s Extortion of Ukraine Is an Impeachable Abuse of Power.
Let’s not forget that the articles of impeachment will also include obstruction of Congress, Article III of the Nixon Articles of Impeachment, and obstruction of justice on numerous factual counts.
It wasn’t a real quid pro quo because the Trump administration is too disorganized to pull off such a scheme.
Senator Lindsey Graham said this last Wednesday. “What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to. They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo. So no, I find the whole process to be a sham and I’m not going to legitimize it.”
Graham and other Trump defenders, like Nikki Haley, are essentially making the argument that a crime was not completed, therefore, no crime. This ridiculous argument ignores the fact that attempted crimes are also felony crimes. In the example at the top of this post, if the cops arrive to find someone trying to break into the car, they would be arrested for attempted auto theft. It is no defense to argue “but officer, I never actually stole the car!”
“I hardly know the gentleman.”
This is Mr. Trump’s go-to excuse when, as so often seems to happen, the people he surrounds himself with implicate him in wrongdoing or get accused of malfeasance themselves. On Friday, Mr. Trump made this assertion about Mr. Sondland, his ambassador and a million-dollar donor to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee.
That’s the same Gordon Sondland whom Mr. Trump called “a really good man and great American” only one month ago. That was just before Mr. Sondland’s original testimony to Congress, during which he claimed he was not aware of any quid pro quo involving military aid. After multiple witnesses called this account into question — [exposing him to possible perjury charges] — Mr. Sondland suddenly remembered that, yes, in fact, there had been a quid pro quo, and that he had personally delivered that message.
The barrage of allegations and finger-pointing is so frenzied that it is disorienting for anyone trying to keep up. That’s the point. Let’s hope the hearings this week help sort truth from all the many lies.
Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast identifies the dark reason why Republicans will ignore the Constitution, the rule of law, and their oaths of office to defend the criminality and corruption of Donald Trump. Tom Boggioni summarizes this subscriber content opinion in The GOP has a dark reason for ensuring that Trump is never impeached:
In a column for the Daily Beast, longtime political observer Michael Tomasky suggests that the Republican Party is backing Donald Trump in his impeachment fight for obvious reasons — not wanting to lose control of the Oval Office — but that is only part of it.
With the Democratic-majority House about to open public impeachment hearings that could be very damaging to the president facing re-election in 2020, the GOP would prefer to nip any impeachment talk of a Republican in the bud because it would expose the way they do business.
According to Tomasky, the latest spin by Republicans is that Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine’s president for dirt on his political opponents in return for foreign aid might be debatable, but that the effort by the president doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Calling the defense, “more insidious, because in sounding reasonable on the surface it masks the cancer that is eating the Republican Party and has been, in fact, since before Donald Trump ran for president,” Tomasky wrote, “the seemingly reasonable, soft-shell defense of Trump is grounded in that authoritarianism.”
Admitting that Republican are running scared of Trump and his rabid followers, Tomasky explained that there is a deeper fear among party leaders that they will be exposed as anything but a party interested in democratic values.
“Everything Trump has done is unimpeachable for this far creepier and less reassuring reason: They do not want to admit that any Republican president is capable of doing anything illegal or impeachable while in office. They simply will not allow that precedent to be established,” he wrote.” [IOKIYAR]
“It’s still the case that too few people understand the truth about the modern GOP. It is an un-American party. It is not interested in democracy. It is interested in power. It doesn’t care how it gets it,” he elaborated. “Twice in the last five elections, its presidential candidates have lost the popular vote. Suppose that had gone the other way around. Do you think the Electoral College would still exist? I can assure you it would not. They would have found a way to gut it. But because the un-democratic results in 2000 and 2016 happened to favor them—hey, the Electoral College is great! Whatever it takes.”
“All this preceded Trump,” he continued. “All the crazy gerrymandering is about power over democracy. Remember when the state legislatures of Wisconsin and North Carolina tried to strip the governor’s office of powers during lame-duck sessions because the incoming governors were Democrats? Power over democracy—or, in that case, limiting the legitimate democratic power of the other side. And of course Merrick Garland. Power over democracy.”
Adding that it is possible there is “a line” Donald Trump could cross that would make Republicans turn on him and acquiesce to booting him from office, Tomasky issued a warning to readers to not hold their collective breaths.
“So when you hear someone on television say that Republicans’ posture is all about their fear of Trump, don’t buy it. It’s partly about that. But it’s also about this. If they were to acquiesce in the removal of a Republican president, they’d be placing democracy ahead of power. And this is one thing that we know they will not do,” he concluded.
Americans must choose between a future of authoritarian Trumpism, or to preserve our democracy. The time to choose has arrived.