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Trump’s quid pro quo isn’t Mitch McConnell’s only headache

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- Commentary
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

William Taylor is the US senior diplomat to Ukraine. He gave testimony to Congress Wednesday confirming what we already know: the president held up aid in exchange for Ukraine’s president to announce publicly that he was investigating Joe Biden.

That, my friend, is a quid pro quo.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

More frightening is that Taylor’s testimony verified that Donald Trump abused the power of the presidency to launch a covert propaganda campaign against the American people, wrote Asha Rangappa earlier this month. That, the former FBI agent wrote, “is explicitly against the law. The 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act prohibits the U.S. government from using covert actions—which include propaganda—to ‘influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.’”

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So … Trump cheated.

It’s a fact.

Trump cheated to win next year’s presidential election (as well as rewrite the history of the last one, as Editorial Board readers well know). And yet he’s still running for re-election. I ask you: in what other walk of this life is a known cheater permitted to continue participating in a process whose integrity he undermined by cheating?

In any other contest, people caught cheating are disqualified, banished and punished. They must be. Everyone’s honor is on the line. As long as Trump is the Republican nominee, and as long as this party stands behind him, his very presence taints the election before the process has even begun. Any outcome, moreover, is unthinkable. It won’t be acceptable if he wins. It won’t be acceptable if he loses. These are the stakes.

Do the Republicans care? I might have said no a couple of months ago, but since then a few cracks started showing. Remember that the Republicans who matter most in this context are those in the Senate. To be sure, most of them are publicly behind Trump. But Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who runs the Senate floor, has said that he has no choice but to hold a trial if the House indicts Trump. More tellingly, McConnell sees a trial as a way of mitigating Trump’s impact on the passel of vulnerable Senate Republicans running for reelection, according to the Times.

So yes, the Republicans care about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election to the extent that any perceived lack of integrity will likely harm down-ballot Senate Republicans. If Americans come to see Trump as tainting the whole process, McConnell’s majority might suffer. So it’s possible, though unlikely, that he will do what it takes to keep the Senate, and that might include removing the president.

Trump’s cheating isn’t McConnell’s only headache.

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Also coming to light is the amount of Russian money that was funneled into Republican campaigns via political action committees that by law are not required to reveal the identities of donors. Rudy Giuliani, as you know, is the president’s personal attorney. He’s at the heart of the Ukraine scandal. Two of his former business associates were arrested recently. Their indictments revealed Russian money going to two GOP campaigns in 2018, one of whom is the current House minority leader.

That person is Kevin McCarthy, a vociferous Trump defender. (He gave the amount of money away after the news emerged) His GOP conference has railed against the Democrats and their impeachment inquiry, claiming that the process is illegitimate and even illegal. My question here is this: at what point does it become fair game to ask Republicans like McCarthy how much money they plan to get from Russia?

Now, knowingly receiving campaign cash for foreign parties happens to be illegal. To ask that question is to assume that the person being asked is open to criminal conduct, which is an impolite thing to presume. McCarthy, however, is an exception. Not only did he take Russian cash; he was caught on tape in 2016 saying that: “There’s two people I think [Vladimir] Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said. Dana Rohrabacher was a fervent Russia defender. He lost his House seat in the midterms.

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The more we learn about the Ukraine scandal, the more the Republicans are likely going to be caught up in it. And the more they are caught up in it, the fairer it will be to ask if Putin is paying them the way same way McCarthy said he’s paying Trump. I can’t imagine that kind of questioning not worrying Republicans or giving them more reason to identify a fall guy, perhaps one who’s already dragging them down anyway.


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